Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giving It Out

Most of you are familiar with this Christian pop song from a few years back. Although I am not into Christian radio, I am quite fond of Brandon Heath, and this video always makes me cry, no matter how many times I see it. The theme of forgiveness is one with which I am continually struggling.

Let’s begin with the lyrics that end the song, “The thing I find most amazing in amazing grace/ Is the chance to give it out/Maybe that’s what love is all about.” We desperately want to be forgiven, but how desperately do we want to forgive? We are instructed in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Does that sound easy?

It is easy, and then again, it isn’t at all. This is where being transformed by Christ makes all the difference. If I truly comprehend what it means for God, who is perfect to a degree beyond my understanding, to forgive me, a bumbling, selfish, sinning creature, my gratitude will overflow. This gratitude will spill into my heart and mind, increasing my ability to forgive others, who are just like me. We are all in the same boat when it comes to being sinners in this life.

From what I can tell, developing enough gratitude for God’s grace to give it back to others is a lifelong process. Let’s face it: This isn’t going to get any easier. Now that I am in my forties, I see that people are going to continue to inflict me with pain from time to time, and it is not going to hurt any less because I am older and have somehow grown a “thicker skin”. I am just as vulnerable as I ever was, and that probably won’t change and actually, should not change. That is why I need an increasing reliance on God and a growing appreciation of the magnitude of His forgiveness.

People are going to disappoint us. They are going to fail to show up, tell us lies, hurt our feelings, judge us, and talk about us behind our backs. But because I am a new creation in Christ, I will cultivate a desire to forgive others as I have been forgiven. It does not eliminate the hurt that people cause us, but it sets us free from the destructive consequences of unforgiveness in our own hearts. In forgiving others, we let go of the burden of carrying around that bitterness. We release any consequences that we feel the offender deserves. We give the problem to God.

Does this mean that we don’t need to talk things out to restore the relationship? Of course not. Does it mean that we instantly trust a person who has betrayed our trust? No, because trust is something that must be rebuilt, but we can give the offender the opportunity to prove herself trustworthy. Does forgiving someone always mean that the relationship will continue? Sometimes, that isn’t possible. Perhaps the other person does not want to anything to do with you, but you still must forgive. You may even need to forgive someone who is no longer alive. Yes, you might need to do that, because if you cannot, you ignore the grace God has freely given you, and destroy yourself.

As Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I am thankful to God for His transformative grace. Without the change that He effects in our hearts, our lives would become desolate and bitter places indeed, choked with so much unforgiveness that loving others would eventually become impossible.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Loving or Legalistic?

I am going to say something that may upset you. It is a pervasive problem in the homeschool community, and I can no longer ignore it. It applies to all of us. In fact, if this doesn’t strike a chord with you, you may not be paying enough attention to this issue.

Let’s start with the basics: We are obligated to say something when a fellow Christian is committing an actual sin. We know what sins are if we read God’s Word on a regular basis. The Bible is clear that actions such as lying, slander, gossip, adultery, blasphemy, etc. are sins. When we see a Christian brother or sister lapsing into sin, we must point it out. This is the “speaking the truth in love” spoken of in Ephesians 4.

But other things that may bother our personal sensibilities are not sins. You may feel convicted that women should not wear pants. That is fine for you, but the Bible does not say that a woman who wears a pair of Levi’s is committing an offense against God. You may think that dating in any form is wrong, but I also know Christians who are happily married after meeting through dating. You may think that one person’s eyeliner or hairstyle is over the top, but is bold fashion a sin?

Romans 14 addresses this matter directly. 1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

 “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me; 

  every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

Please note that Paul is saying that the one who is “weak in faith” is the one who feels obligated to follow “extra” rules. In this case, the person feels that he must be a vegetarian to follow God. Such a person must not be ridiculed by the meat eaters, but should be allowed to follow his or her personal conviction. At the same time, there is no such thing as a “dietary sin”, so a person who feels compelled to follow dietary restrictions should not require others to abide by the same rules.

Paul was using the example of extra dietary rules to illustrate the point that we cannot go around policing the Christian world according to our own extra-Biblical convictions. Homeschoolers are notorious for doing just that to each other. We are people with strong wills and convictions, but Galatians 6:3 says, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” There are many talented, determined people in our midst, but we can get too full of ourselves.

We cannot play the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting fellow Christians of the specific choices that they should make. To do so indicates an overinflated sense of our own importance and a heart that is hardened to the needs of others. If we catch ourselves in the error of imposing legalism on our friends, it is a sign that we need to realign ourselves with God, because we are out of touch with His purposes. God fashioned the body of Christ to be diverse and full of freedom in Him. To choose to impose your legalistic rules is to forget God’s call to love and acceptance of each uniquely created person.