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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

What of the lost sheep who have acted as wolves in sheeps’ clothing? Who have caused us or others harm?

Yesterday a birthday passed for someone who has strayed far from his fold. Someone whose online messages state he is lost but who is not yet willing to turn to the Shepherd. Someone who has committed thefts, large and small, against his closest family members who now must maintain security systems to keep him out. Someone whose words so often turn out to be false. Someone for whom others have taken up the responsibility of raising his children. Someone who was given chance after chance to change his ways and do right, but who, so far, has not chosen to face the truth that much of what he is reaping is what he has sown.

So easy for me (and others more closely) affected by his actions to wish that he eat of the bitter fruits he has planted. To want retribution not resolution.

And, yet, what of those parables of the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Workers in the Vineyard, etc. am I choosing to ignore? That nothing is impossible with a God who sent his son to save you, me, men who steal from their grandmothers and mothers, murderers, those who persecute the faithful, those who wish others to lie in the beds they’ve made—anyone who commits crimes against God and fellow humans—which is all of us.

How can I act as if I deserve grace any more than he does? Grace is always undeserved—that is the nature of grace. If God’s grace is sufficient, then it is sufficient for all, not just for those whom we judge to have not strayed quite as far others.

Shame on me for not believing that where there is God there is hope, no matter how much hurt a person has sown in this world. This man is a child of God and a child of his mother, who still longs deeply in her heart for his redemption—with God and with family.

At the same time, there is real reason for creating boundaries. Just because God says all are welcome at His table does not mean we need to extend that welcome to our tables while the actions and hearts have yet to change.

But what of my actions and heart also needs to change to be fully welcome at God’s table? If vengeance is God’s, then isn’t my job instead to pray without ceasing and to open my heart to the possibility that no matter the seeds that have been planted so far, that there is still time for a harvest that will bear good fruit?

Earlier this year Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy—a Jubilee—reminding us that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. . . .” No one—not even the lost sheep who have harmed us. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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(c) 2010

(c) 2010

God loves you, you know, even if the late Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist) said, “You’re not going to get nowhere (sic) with that slop that ‘God loves you.’ That’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.”

No, the diabolical lie is that God propagates hate. Of course, there’s biblical warrant for saying God loves you. But like everyone else amongst us, Phelps was prone to pick the passages in the Bible he preferred over those he didn’t. I’m just as guilty as he is in that one, but I choose to fall on the side of the “slop” about love.

No matter how much hate Phelps spread in this world, God still loved him. Not for what he did, but for who he was—a child of God. Phelps did more to promote God’s love than he knew by bringing us together to denounce the Westboro message of hate. All sorts of people who couldn’t agree on faith issues could agree that Phelps and his group were going about the message all wrong. His idea of promoting what was “right” in God’s eyes meant any way to promote his insight into God’s message worked, including the collateral damage of harming innocents to shock us (as individuals, people, nations, the world) into accepting the truth as he saw it.

But most of us did not buy into his terroristic methods. People, often with nothing more in common than an aversion to hate, came together to hold hands and form a chain of love against the unchained hate of Westboro Baptist.

Unlike what Fred Phelps did, God doesn’t name call. He also doesn’t elevate one sin over another. Sin is simply anything that gets in the way of us and God.

And when it comes to that sort of sin, we’re all as guilty as Fred Phelps, whether or not we separate ourselves from God by knowingly turning from him, by not putting him at the center of our lives, or by arrogantly believing we know exactly how God believes and that he has called us to be his enforcers.

The truth is, not a one of us is good enough to be saved by God. But our God is a God of love. He longs for our hearts to be turned to him and longs to take our sins, any sins no matter how heinous.

That means anyone can be saved until his or her last breath. You and I should be glad that God is God. Fred Phelps, Ted Bundy, me, you, whomever—we all need his mercy and forgiveness.

For God so loved the world that he gave us his son so that we could be free to love others and let God worry about the final details. So get out there and never stop promoting that slop about God and his love.

Also true of my heart--but also what I expect back from others, family or otherwise.

Also true of my heart–but also what I expect back from others, family or otherwise.

I am who I am—and part of that involves believing—often mistakenly—that others I might enjoy surely share my values. Too easily I think people want what’s best for the common good and share my beliefs that—no matter how short we may fall—it’s important to try to live our lives attempting to treat others as we would like to be treated. I also believe there’s often more than one way to do things and, despite, my intense desire to do things the way I consider right, that it’s no good to be highly critical of others who fall short—especially if I make the same mistakes myself. Plus, none of us can be good at everything.

But I’m tired of others telling me and my own that how we live our lives is insufficient if we do so much as put the wrong spoon in the wrong slot, don’t eat enough vegetables, or choose professions that afford us more time with our family but less money in the bank account. I’m tired of people comparing the apples of circumstance to the oranges of circumstance and thinking that their conclusions are oh-so-rational and valid while ours are irrational and unsupported by evidence.

Quite frankly none of those details matter if we don’t treat others with respect—especially those whom we claim are important to us. Dave Barry says that a person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter isn’t a nice person—well, it’s also true that a person who acts nice to the waiter, but not to you is not acting in a nice way. If we want to remain in relationship with people whom we enjoy and who we can count on to stand with us in the tough times, we also have to put up with some of their flaws—and that involves acting “nice” toward them, even after we’ve become comfortable with one another.

A constant diet of criticism is not how we should reward those closest to us. If others’ habits really have grown too heinous to tolerate without feeling the need to make corrections, then maybe we no longer care about them as much as we once did.

Healthy relationships are a balance of giving and taking—if the balance is off, then what remains is a power relationship. And this is especially where I admit to being just who I am—I believe in relationships we maintain for connection, not for status or image or whatever can be gained beyond connection. If I have to worry about impressing you or doing things your way constantly, then we’ve got a problem. Relationships are about enjoying time together as well as being able to tolerate whatever it is we don’t enjoy about someone—because in a mature relationship we’re never going to enjoy everything about someone; however, if the relationship matters to us anyway, we’ll love them as they are without trying to improve or fix them.

I may be good at finding errors in documents and how things are done, but that doesn’t mean I should always share my criticism or opinions. Sometimes it’s not my position to say—and other times it doesn’t really matter that much after all. You know the whole drill: is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Maybe I’m especially sensitive about this because as a woman with ADD, I’m better at rational and creative thinking than I am at putting everything in its proper place or maintaining all the details of a life. But know this, what is my greatest weakness is also my greatest strength. I am nothing but responsive to people and situations.

If you call me in a moment of crisis, I’ll drop what I’m doing to help you—even if it means I don’t get proper sleep or finish my own obligations as first planned. If my mother or my father-in-law or anyone in my family needs to be visited while in care, I’ll go, even if it means I will have less time for my own tasks. If the family business needs me to pull financial documents for a loan, I’m the person. And if you need my help critiquing your paper, I’ll make time to do so.

And though I won’t be as good at doing what comes naturally domestically, that might allow me to come up with even better than typical domestic organizing systems—such as laundry organizers that go way beyond lights/darks or a desk designed just for me from what we already own. I might put off painting my house for years, but when I do, I’ll come up with a color scheme that pops because I’ve been thinking about it while waiting to move forward.

None of us gets “it” all, but I’d like to think my heart and work ethic as well as my creativity are in the right places and make up for whatever organizational qualities I may lack—I do what I think is necessary for other people or organizations first before I put my effort to doing everything just perfectly in my own space.

Besides, if you’re looking for perfect, you’re not going to find that in me—or anyone or anything. If you’d rather be perfect or right than relational, loyal, and decent to others, then we’ll have to agree to disagree about what really matters in this life.

But there is one more thing. If after all this is said and done, and you say you do understand where I am coming from—I will be willing to try to forgive and forget and move forward as long as you understand that your desire to show and do kindness is the only way you’ll ever truly impress me, even though you—an imperfect human like the rest of us—will inevitably fall short from time to time. That you care enough to try is what matters most to me.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Evil stalks our streets, as the media like to scream. We are not safe from those who would take our lives or the lives of our loved ones or the lives of people whom we do not know. Just in my state of Colorado in this last year we have awakened to news of late night movie house slaughter, a pizza delivery driver gunned down in order to facilitate gunning down a prison official, and a little girl stolen a few blocks from school—there is no doubt in my mind that evil exists.

There is also no doubt in my mind that some people deserve to die for their murderous acts.

Yet I remain opposed to the death penalty—just because someone deserves something doesn’t mean we should take it upon ourselves to make it happen.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19, KJV

Life in prison without parole, especially if served in solitary confinement and especially for young killers, is not a free pass. For the rest of their days, the hours stretch ahead of them. And for people who prefer to ignore rules as a rule, living under extreme rules 24/7 is indeed punishment.

Even if I didn’t rely on my faith, I would believe life in prison protected the public and served as punishment.

My faith, however, tells me that if the killer dies unrepentant, then additional vengeance will follow. On the other hand, should the person truly repent, then forgiveness will instead be God’s to give—whether or not anyone else ever forgives the heinous crimes committed against others.

Sometimes I think we hope that the words Christ spoke to the criminal dying beside him on his own cross—“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43, NIV—will apply only to us with our “minor” sins, but not to people who have done what we in society tend to agree are truly evil acts. But we don’t get to make the final judgments. Render to God what is his: vengeance.

I have enough sins on my hands and don’t want the blood of another added to them.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert