Learning to Forgive

God can provide the power to forgive.

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In an excerpt from her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom relates the following story:

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. “When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.…”

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying, “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me.

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,” again the hand came out—“will you forgive me?”

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “… Help!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.[i]

If we have received unmerited forgiveness from God, then we must give that forgiveness freely to others. For the truth is, it is not our mercy we are to keep; it is His mercy we are to give.

Scripture: Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (ESV)

Question: Is there someone in your life that has hurt you, someone you struggle to forgive?

Prayer: Father, even reading that question brings up hurt feelings over what someone said or did, and I don’t know how I could ever forgive them. Please give me the strength to reach out with your supernatural love by remembering how quickly and thoroughly you forgave me. By saying I can’t forgive, I am limiting your ability, and I know nothing is impossible with you. Please help me take that first step toward reconciliation, and may your power of love be demonstrated through me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

[i] Ten Boom, Corrie. “I’m Still Learning to Forgive.” In Guideposts, 1972. Quoted in “Guidepost Classics: Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness,” July 24, 2014. https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/guideposts-classics-corrie-ten-boom-on-forgiveness.

Heaven is Watching

As Bob Marley would say, it’s time to “stir it up”!

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Before he passed away, bible theologian J. Vernon McGee was invited to a kickoff luncheon for the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, where he heard an inspiring story from the newscaster. 

He told of a famous football coach in the East. The coach had a player who was known for two things. The first thing he was noted for was his faithfulness at football practice. He was the first one out and the last one to leave, but he never could make the team-he just wasn’t quite good enough. The second thing he was famous for was that his father often visited him on campus, and they would be seen walking arm in arm across campus, very much engrossed in conversation. Everyone noticed that and thought it was sweet. Well, one day the coach got a call saying that the boy’s father had died. The coach was the one chosen to tell the sad news to the boy, so he called him in and told him. The boy was greatly shaken, of course, and had to go home for the funeral. But he was present at the next game, sitting there on the bench. Then he came over to the coach and said, “Coach, this is my fourth and last year, and I’ve never played in a game. I’m wondering if today you could put me in just a few minutes and let me play.” And so the coach put him in because the boy’s father had just died. To his amazement, the boy turned out to be a star! The coach had never seen anyone play a better, more brilliant game than this boy played-so he never took him out of the game. When the game was over, the coach called the boy off to the side and said to him, “Listen, I’ve never seen anyone play like you played today, but up to today, you were the lousiest football player I’ve ever seen. I want an explanation.” And the boy said, “Well, coach, you see, my dad was blind, and this is the first day that he ever saw me play football.”

While most of us will not have the opportunity to run on a field surrounded by bleachers filled with shouts of acclimation, we all have an audience. Although not seen with human eyes or heard with human ears, we are all surrounded by very vocal and passionate encouragers

On the tennis team in high school, I had many tournaments both at home and away. And, I always performed much better at games on courts in our hometown. Why? Because our home side of the bleachers was full of supporters cheering me on, that was not the case for games miles away. There is just something that happens to a soul when surrounded by supporters cheering them on; it’s powerful to know you are being watched and actively encouraged to perform well. No wonder the Bible commands us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, ESV). That word “stir” actually means encouraging, spur, prod, and stimulating; in other words, we are to enter the bleachers of each other’s lives and fill their ears with shouts of support. 

What about those times when we look up from our “race” to discover the bleachers are lifeless or empty, with no encouragement or support for what we are doing? Or even those times when it seems the opposing team is the loudest voice, filling our ears with criticism; judging our motives and methodologies? It is through these difficult and lonely times we must remember that Heaven is watching. And, while you won’t be able to physically hear or see those in Heaven cheering you on, you can be sure that group is your loudest and most supportive force of encouragement in your life. Remembering this can keep us all going strong and see us cross the finish line triumphantly; just to know you are not forgotten and Heaven is watching is enough to motivate our direction and inspire us to go the distance.

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (ESV)

Question: Have you ever felt all alone, like the bleachers of your life were empty?

Prayer: Father, there are times that loneliness sets in when I am trying my best to serve you and make a difference in this world. Times when it seems the only voices I hear are complaints and criticisms, second-guessing my motives, and misjudging my methodologies as I serve you. Father, may I focus my spiritual eyes and incline my spiritual ears to become more aware of the cloud of witnesses in my life and rejoice that Heaven is always watching and cheering me on. Thank you, Father, that I am never alone, and even when everyone else is leaving the stadium of my life, you have filled it up with an audience of Heavenly support. Thank you for encouraging and loving me as the ultimate Coach in my life. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Smoke in the Kitchen

God sees past our failures to hearts that He loves.

Earlier in the afternoon, my amazingly gifted wife Laurie successfully defended her doctoral dissertation and was recognized, for the very first time, by her board chair as Dr. McCracken. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, who confirmed this personally, my love language is gift-giving, which supplements one of my favorite hobbies, cooking. So, off to the local Fresh Market I went, hand-selecting the two finest specimens of filet mignon, fresh asparagus, and the largest potatoes I could find. That night I did everything right, got the filets to room temperature, dry brined each steak, reverse-seared the meat by starting them in the oven at a lower temperature, and then finishing on a cast-iron skillet. With both ovens employed, and two stovetops active, I owned that kitchen like Guy Fieri until it was time to butter the potatoes for that crisp skin, then I turned into Julia Child! In my head, my wife would soon be cutting into her medium steak, steam rising from the tender pink filet, and she would smile and say, “this is even better than Ruth’s Chris Restaurant, thank you.” That vision went up with the smoke coming from the skillet when our vent failed to work, resulting from a previous kitchen fire. The garlic basil butter I added increased the amount of smoke, and with no vent in the kitchen, I literally could not see the steaks. Blowing profusely, I thrust a thermometer into one of the steaks and was shocked the temperature was only 130, not the desired 160, so I kept flipping and counting and checking, even using another thermometer in case the first was faulty. Going with my gut, I pulled the skillet off the stove and placed it on the island cutting board, and waited for the smoke to clear. Once I could see the steaks, I moaned; they were no longer steaks but charred disks of burned cow meat; both thermometers were broken! Smoke alarm going off in the living room, I had the back deck door, and garage doors opened, fans on, as I made my way with plates of disgrace to be presented on the table. Looking at my wife, I apologized and bowed my head as she prayed for our meal. “Father,” she started, “please be with Tom and help him to realize that the time he spent preparing this meal means more to me than anything else” after she had finished praying, she lifted her head and reassured me, “it’s ok, I love you.” 

I am confident that whoever you are, there have been times when your final product looked, or tasted, nothing like you envisioned or dreamed. Perhaps even as you evaluate your life recently, you might confess who you are is not who you dreamed you would be. It may be that you don’t think you’re making that much of a difference for God, that you’re not doing, investing, going, or serving as much or as often as you had planned. Or that what you’ve done for God isn’t’ as great as others that seem to be accomplishing some fantastic things for the kingdom, making steaks while you serve charred patties. But, don’t you think that God sees your motivations, your efforts, over your own perceived quality of a final product? 

After Peter denied Jesus, he started to believe the devil’s lies, that he was no longer usable and that God could not, would not, forgive or love him ever again. Peter thought that his life as a disciple was over since the last meal he made Jesus was a scorched steak, I digress. Nevertheless, Peter did feel the effects of having his grandiose visions of loyalty to Jesus depart when he failed, so he gave up and went back to fishing. Yet early one morning, while out in the boat with his friends, a figure appeared on the shore and called to them; it was Jesus. Peter didn’t even wait to turn the boat around and paddle in; he lept off and swam as hard as he could! What did he find? Jesus was making him breakfast. It was at this time that Jesus reminded Peter that his calling and usability were still in force with the statement, “feed my sheep.” (John 21:17). Jesus was more concerned with the process, not the final product; Jesus understood that Peter was not perfect, he would make mistakes, and that was ok. 

My wife saw my heart, even through the smoke in the kitchen, and appreciated the love that motivated me to cook a meal for her, even more than the taste. God sees past our flaws, mistakes, baggage, scars, and imperfections, He sees our heart, and as long as you desire to please Him, you can be assured, even when you feel you’ve failed, He is saying, “it’s ok, I love you.”

Scripture: I Samuel 16:7b, “For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (ESV) 

Question: Have you ever felt inadequate, unworthy, or as if what you offer God is not good enough?

Prayer: Father, there are so many times I feel so unworthy and inadequate, times when I don’t feel what I bring, is making a difference or matters. There are days when I have good intentions but not enough time and great ideas that seem to come up short. Please help me remember that you are not after perfection; you just want me to love you, and sometimes that is messy, chaotic, disorganized, and not pretty. Thank you for your patience and for seeing past the smoke of my imperfect life into my very heart. May I not be so focused on the final product that I fail to enjoy your love during the preparation. Thank you for your patience, grace, care and for making me feel special. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen

To Think I Saw It On An American Street

Heard Dr. Seuss had been tossed, so I wrote a poem about a country so lost.

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In a world that is tossed 
And morally lost
I walk along
Singing a song
On an American Street
With my offended feet
Offended by this
Offended by that
Making sure to straighten
My politically correct hat
Cancelling all that does not belong
In my all-inclusive view
Singing the acceptance song
But only for the few
Just do you on the earth’s sod
As long as it doesn’t include your God
No room for the Commandments of Ten
Prayer in class or godly men
We must cancel creation too
Since we come from the apes
That live in a zoo
Approve what you want
Cancel the rest
What used to be right 
Is no longer what’s best

That's what I hear on the street
In many American Towns
Some call ‘em politicians
Others call ‘em clowns
Kneel at the games
Build new rooms to pee
Conform to the world
And worship those on T.V.
Remove from the shelves Mr. Potato Head
Read liberal books to the children in bed
Refuse to watch Charlie Brown on TV
Or listen to Rush talk about being free
Then we ask, “where is God?”
As we toss the Bible
Giving humanism a nod
We kicked Him out and wonder why
He pulled away with a tearful sigh
Is there any hope for a country so lost
Or will it come with a price or a cost?
Can we continue to live how we please?
Or would we have to confess from our knees?
Deep down I know what must be done
We must go back to the One, God’s only Son
To confess our sin and struggles within
And repent of our ways to the Ancient of Days
It’s not too late
To change our fate
There is still hope
At the end of our rope
Time is something we can’t afford
Very soon the clouds will present the Lord
We must act now and plead our case
To be wrapped up tight in God’s loving grace
Our country has a future, this is for sure
Whether we are blessed or cursed depends on the door
The road on the left is wide and free
But leads to torment many will see
The road on the right is narrow and rough
But those who walk find Jesus enough