August 20

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. 3 Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? 5 You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. 6 Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you. Matthew 7:1-6, CEB

What if I don’t forgive?

We talked about this a little bit yesterday. I think what I was trying to say in that devotional is that the process is as important, if not more important, than the end result. We can spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways in which we haven’t forgiven. We can think about the people that are on our list to forgive and get ourselves in a tizzy while worrying that it hasn’t happened yet. This is being focused on the result. We either have forgiven or we haven’t…there’s no grey area in this kind of thinking.

In reality, the process of trying to be a forgiving person is more important than whether or not we can check off the “forgiveness box” next to each person’s name on our lists. The person we’re trying to become is more important than accomplishing tasks, even if that task is as important as forgiveness. Now, I’m not saying we give up trying to forgive, just the opposite. I’m saying we dedicate ourselves to the task wholeheartedly without concern for when we get to “the end”. In this way, we’re freed up to focus on the process and taking baby steps and rid ourselves of the anxiety that comes from wondering why we’re so far “behind” (Who and what are we really behind anyway?).

So today, we encourage you to give yourself a break. Forget about the future. Forget about “the end” and results, accomplishments, or achievements. Just embrace whatever part of the journey you’re on and dedicate yourself to that little piece. That’s all we can really do anyway.


August 19

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. 3 Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? 5 You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. 6 Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you. Matthew 7:1-6, CEB

 

What if I don’t forgive?

This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer of all. Truth be told, I don’t know. It’s clear from the Matthew 18 passage that God anticipates that the forgiveness He gives should lead to a gracious response on our parts towards those around us. It’s clear from this passage that passing judgment on anyone, including our offenders, isn’t really our job. We’ve been forgiven much so we’re free to forgive much.

And yet, we could choose to simply not forgive. Or perhaps it’s too overwhelming or whatever. What happens if forgiveness doesn’t happen? I don’t know the answer to that. I honestly have no idea. But perhaps it’s not helpful to try to figure out the whole future. We’re taught the importance of living one day at a time. We can embrace that mentality when it comes to forgiveness. Maybe we haven’t fully forgiven everyone on our list today, but are we trying? Are we legitimately, earnestly trying? Forget whether or not we’re “done” forgiving everyone. Are we making honest attempts to be forgiving types of people?

I think that’s what matters. Only you can determine if you’re truly making a full effort to forgive with your whole heart behind it. Being fully committed doesn’t mean forgiveness will be easier or come quicker, but it does mean that you can honestly say, “Yes. I’m committed to this process.”

For right now, that’s all that matters.


August 18

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan. 28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’ 29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt. 31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:23-35, CEB

 

What happens if someone is asking for forgiveness in order to manipulate us?

 

Sometimes we just get that feeling, don’t we? We start getting the idea that someone is asking for forgiveness from the “wrong” motivation. Perhaps they seem a little too demanding about it. Perhaps they come across as a bit entitled. Perhaps they even tell us that we have to forgive them because God tell us to! When someone says this, watch out for the lightening! Or, perhaps someone has taught us that they’re requests for forgiveness are somewhat less than sincere. They’ve apologized and perhaps tried to make a full amends on a number of occasions but, try as they might, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again and they continue to ask for forgiveness. What do we make of this?

 

On the one hand, it’s not totally untrue that God tells us to forgive and, because of that, we should. That is true, it’s just not a very cool thing for a wrongdoer to say to someone he/she has harmed! In fact, it adds to the offense. It makes forgiveness even more difficult. Nobody wants to be told they’re supposed to do something. If we really took that type of thinking seriously then we could turn around and tell our offender, “Well you weren’t supposed to cause harm in the first place, but where did that get us???” But, that wouldn’t be very loving or forgiving of us would it?

 

People who treat us this way are not exactly safe people. People who continually harm and then beg (or demand) forgiveness teach us that they aren’t exactly trustworthy. They don’t need to know what our process is. Forgiveness is something we’re continually working towards, even with these people, but it’s not just because they ask or demand it. In fact, it’s in spite of their requests that we seek to forgive. They don’t need to know about our process and we don’t need to explain it to them. However, when we’re in the midst of those conversations we can speak honestly. We can tell them we’re trying to forgive, or perhaps that we will forgive, or that that it’s already happened, or that we’re struggling to do it. We can voice whatever feels honest to us in that moment without being peer-pressured into forgiveness.   We can even tell them we feel manipulated and that makes forgiveness difficult. There’s a number of ways of approaching this conversation honestly without being bullied, and believe me, that’s exactly what people try to do.

 

Some people ask for forgiveness from an earnest place of humility. That’s very meaningful, impactful, and beautiful. Sometimes people don’t do that. This doesn’t mean we take forgiveness off the table, but it does mean perhaps we have some different boundaries with these people. And it means they’re making forgiveness very hard for us to try to give! But, if we’re going to be consistent, we try to find ways to forgive even to people who are using “repentance” (which isn’t really repentance) as some kind of tool or weapon.


August 17

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan. 28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’ 29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt. 31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:23-35, CEB

 

Does forgiving mean that I am a doormat?

Whether we like to admit it or not, that’s a question we all wrestle with at some time or another in the forgiveness process. What does forgiving say about me? Does it make me weak? Is it a cop-out? Am I unwilling to take a stand?

These are tough questions. I don’t think it makes us weak. I don’t think it’s a cop-out. And I don’t think it means we’re not willing to take a stand.

When we forgive, we are acknowledging wrongdoing. In order for forgiveness to even be on the table then some sort of harm or offense occurred. We are acknowledging that. We are acknowledging an offense and we are identifying the person who caused the harm as the wrongdoer. (This doesn’t necessarily make the person evil, it just means they messed up, as we all do).

When we forgive, we’re refusing to let an offense slide. When we forgive, we’re living as people strong enough to act out a certain way of seeing even when we don’t feel like it. When we forgive we’re not avoiding a problem, we’re confronting a problem. When we forgive, we’re taking a stand against harm while, at the same time, showing others that life doesn’t have to be a constant game of competition, retaliation, and resentment.

Does forgiving mean you’re a doormat?

Not even close.


August 16

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times…” Matthew 18: 21-22, CEB

Yesterday I wrote about expectations. Expectations are a difficult thing to deal with, at times, especially when it comes to something that is as difficult as forgiveness. Expectations can confuse us. I don’t know about you, but I have the tendency to turn my expectations into motivations. If I expect, or hope, for a certain thing to happen in my life then that may motivate me to behave in a certain kind of way that might bring that thing about.

I have often faked forgiveness in an effort to restore relationship with someone because I was too uncomfortable with the fact that we had a broken relationship. I can’t stand being in broken relationships. I can’t stand feeling like something isn’t right between me and another person. There have been times when I’ve been wronged, but the other person acts like it’s all my job to restore relationship because I’m the one that’s upset.

Many of us go through this. Often we’re asked to downplay or minimize harm for the sake of “going along”. This isn’t really fair to us, but people do it. In trying to meet another person’s expectations of me, and of relationship, I’ve taken more upon myself, at times, than I should have in the name of ‘forgiveness’. I wasn’t really forgiving the other person, I was just pretending like nothing had happened. This was a combination of my faulty expectations (that people always get along in relationships) and another person’s inability to own their stuff.

That’s just not really forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t about trying to get people to like us again, and it’s not about us trying to like someone again. It’s a much more spiritually profound process. It’s not about pacifying our insecurities or our anxieties. It’s about trying to live from a place of grace. What that grace looks like in any given scenario, I can’t say, but that’s the goal. Well, that’s the goal as I see it.

What does it mean to be a person who lives from a gracious place?


August 15

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times…” Matthew 18: 21-22, CEB

One of the most important questions in my life has been, “What are my expectations?” If I can identify my expectations then I have a much better chance of remaining reasonably content. This is because I’m consciously aware of what I want to happen in a given situation. Being consciously aware of what we want, though, also makes it possible for us to recognize that what we want might not happen. What I mean is, if we’re unconscious of our expectations then we’re much more liable to be disappointed either because we don’t know how to move in the direction of meeting those expectations or because we simply haven’t considered what might happen if they’re not met. In many cases, unmet expectations aren’t as scary or disappointing as they have the potential to be. When we’re mentally prepared for any outcome then it’s easier to deal with disappointment.

So, forgiveness. What do we hope is going to happen in this process? What are we afraid will happen if we forgive or if we don’t forgive? Do we expect other people to change because we forgive them? Do we expect restored relationship? Do we expect a return to the “good ole days”? What is it? What do you expect?

Today, consider your expectations. Think about what you hope for in this process of forgiveness. Think about what you want to happen. Consider what it mean to you to have your expectations met, or to have them unmet. It may help us as we do the hard work of processing so much stuff.


August 14

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

 Yesterday I wrote about how our moral inventory may help us posture ourselves in forgiving ways towards our offenders. As we take a good, hard honest look at ourselves perhaps we recognize the depth of our imperfection and find grace for others who also have imperfections.

There’s one other point I want to make on this. Making a searching and fearless moral inventory may help guide us through the process of becoming more forgiving simply because it forces to voice our struggles to forgive.

I learned from Karen Axley recently how important it is to be able to name the things we can’t do as we struggle to become forgiving people. Sometimes, when we voice our negative thoughts, feelings, attitudes, dispositions, and whatever else, we are opening the gate that forgiveness soon enters. Sometimes saying, “I just can’t forgive this person for ______,” is the best possible starting point. It’s in this place that we’re truly honest and humble. It’s in this place that we’re appropriately submitted to God. It’s in this place that we’re ready, willing, and able to have God begin a work of forgiveness with us.

We can’t do this stuff on our own. We’re not strong enough, clever enough, gracious enough, or objective enough. We need God to do a powerful work on our minds and hearts in order for forgiveness to flow into us and out of us.

Today, tell God and another person what you struggle with. Be willing to voice the things you simply cannot do.

Then be prepared for God to start (a long process) of doing them!


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