To Forgive…or Not

forgiveness3For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,
so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

To forgive or not to forgive, that is life’s dilemma.

Mickey had faced a lot in life. He’d had to forgive his first wife for walking out on him. So he wasn’t prepared for the words his second wife pronounced one night in their bedroom: “I don’t love you anymore.”

Mickey’s world crumbled when he also learned his wife had been unfaithful to him. Containing his anger took all the strength he could muster. When his wife finally walked out, forgiveness was the last thing on his mind. When it became evident that the marriage was not salvageable, he had to make a choice: forgive her and move on or resent her and be miserable.

God’s choice was similar. He created humans, placed them in a garden where all their needs were met, and gave them one prohibition. Shortly thereafter, they failed the test. His choice was assigning them and their descendants a murky future or forgiving them and providing a way for their reconciliation. He chose a path of reclamation that was foreshadowed by the skins He secured to cover their nakedness.

Thousands of years later, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice symbolized by those first animal skins. But why couldn’t God merely have forgiven without such a gruesome act of suffering as the cross demonstrated? The answer lies in the association between forgiveness and suffering. The first always encompasses the second.

Choosing to forgive entails suffering. If someone wrongs me and I choose not to forgive, resentment, hatred, anger, and plans for revenge will assume the place of forgiveness. I may think my refusal to forgive is hurting the other person, but I’m the one who suffers. Doing the opposite—forgiving, also contains an element of suffering.

My willingness to forgive automatically brings suffering because I’m releasing someone from a debt they owe me for a wrong they’ve committed against me. Doing so goes against my human nature and brings pain. Jesus showed how to do it well. God allowed Him to assume my sin so I could be given His righteousness. When I forgive others, I assume the pain they deserve to endure for hurting me.

God forgave because He loves. He gives us the power to do the same. Let Him teach you how to forgive those who’ve wronged you. Failing to forgive leads to a life of misery.

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Christmas’ New Normal

christmasBut many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple
wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation.
The others, however, were shouting for joy.

Ezra 3:12 NLT

A new normal had arrived—and with it, a state of anxiety.

I’m a nostalgic kind of guy. If I were retired, I would sit around and watch the Hallmark channel’s Christmas movies for six weeks. They’re sappy and have predictable endings. The girl gets the guy, the mystery is solved, the wish granted.

Christmas celebrations in our family were once predictable too. When I and my brothers were small, we gathered at our grandparents’ houses for a meal and the opening of presents. When all of us had grown up, married, and had children of our own—and the grandparents had gone to glory, we gathered at our parents’ house—who were now grandparents. We repeated our life-long pattern by eating a meal and opening presents in a certain way. Sit in a circle, open a present, show everyone what you received, and tell who it was from. It was customary, predictable, comfortable.

Then divorces and remarriages ripped through our family. Not a one of us escaped. With the remarriages came new step members—in-laws, out-laws, and more grandparents. Getting the family together was challenging—almost impossible. Too many homes to schedule visits at.

Our Christmas gatherings are now unpredictable, unsettling, and, for some in the family, non-existent. I feel like the Israelite leaders who returned from Babylonian exile witnessed the new Temple’s foundation and wept because it didn’t compare with the one they had seen before—King Solomon’s temple. They experienced a new normal, just as I am now.

I sometimes react to this new normal with a host of emotions: anger, confusion, sadness, nostalgia. But doing so doesn’t help. It only makes me miserable and taints the holiday season. I’m learning to accept this new normal. Life will never be as it once was. I might as well make the best of it and look for the good in it.

God has brought many new normals in my lifetime. I sometimes treat them in the same way I’m tempted to do with the holiday season, but I’m learning a healthier way. What was once normal won’t return. I’m learning to embrace these new normals with anticipation, excitement, and appreciation. After all, God is in control and knows what He’s doing. I must trust Him.

When God brings new normals into your life, embrace them rather than resist them.

Seeing the Real Picture

horsepasture-riverFor we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV

We stood gazing across the river at what our eyes couldn’t believe.

My daughter and I were backpacking. Our third day out, we came to a swinging bridge that crossed Horsepasture River. But as we looked at the other side, we noticed a large tree had fallen across the stairway ascending the neighboring mountain—the mountain we had to climb.  Without binoculars to view the situation up close, we had two choices: turn back or move on. We moved on.

An enormous pine had fallen across the steps. What we couldn’t see from the other side was that the mess was passable—with a little ingenuity. Since my daughter was only 12 and skinny, she easily passed beneath the tree. I wasn’t so fortunate. I removed my pack, hugged the tree tightly, and shinnied over. Had I slid down the tree, I would have also slid down the mountain.

Just as my daughter and I couldn’t see the full picture from where we stood on the other side of the river, so I normally can’t see all aspects of my life’s journey either. Nor could the greatest missionary who ever lived. He said he walked by faith and included all believers in the journey. Faith helps me see that the real picture isn’t as frightening up close as it may appear from a distance.

With faith eyes, I can see God has a plan. His plans for me are good. He wants to bless, not harm. His plans have a purpose, and if I’ll pursue His plan I’ll live a more abundant life than I could possibly find through power, possessions, or pleasure.

With faith eyes, I’m reminded there’s a spiritual warfare taking place. God wants me to enjoy His best while Satan wants me to pursue his plan. The first brings lasting joy and peace while the second only brings temporary satisfaction—along with eternal torment.

With faith eyes, I can see the victory is won. Christ assured the final victory on Calvary’s cross. By relying on His Spirit’s power, I can win every spiritual battle I encounter.

And with the eyes of faith, I can believe there’s a way through every one of life’s trials. God has the path mapped out and will point me in the right direction when I ask.

When your way appears blocked by life’s obstacles, God can help you see the real picture.