Forgiveness Asks…

November 26, 2017 message. Watch here.

Poetry invites the listener to hear familiar concepts with new ears… LISTEN CAREFULLY.

What they meant for harm, God used for good.

He trusted his brothers, couldn’t imagine their hate
And how they plotted and planned this dreamer to betray
His life was exchanged for silver pieces in a bag
Much like another “much greater” who came later had

Beaten and banished he was condemned to perish
In the darkness of a dried out well
By his brothers who into slavery would sell
Their younger brother, Joseph, to human traffickers enroute to Egypt

From Potiphar to prison to prophecy to Pharaoh
The favor and provision for Joseph from God would grow
Not a word or visit from his family for twenty years
Yet, Joseph grew in authority and power over his Egyptian peers

Thinking their brother loooong dead,
the other sons of Jacob would soon head
To Egypt in order to seek aid and relief
From the famine in Canaan which compounded their grief

Joseph could have raged, he could have stored up his hate
But these brothers did not realize Egypt’s Secretary of State
was the one they sold so long ago
on that road near Shechem north of Jericho

Forgiveness sidesteps revenge of the situation
Regardless Arminian free will or Calvin’s predestination
As ambassadors of God, forgiveness is ours
to liaise on God’s behalf and heal creation’s scars

Forgiveness is a change of heart,
Something typically done after much time apart
We look to another with eyes now wide open
And look past the hurt of what was once broken.

Forgiveness is one of the most amazing things
that a person can give to another
Time may be needed to give you the peace
To forgive your sister or brother

“What you meant for harm, God used for good”
Joseph replied while his brothers before him stood
But wasn’t as easy as Genesis 37 thru 50 displays
There was much anger, fear, and weeping on the way
Toward the healing and wholeness found on that day.

Please turn to Genesis 50:14-21 (NRSV) for today’s reading

36 yearsJoseph was the next son in a family lineage in which the younger/youngest son was given favor over the eldest. This was unheard of in ancient culture. Joseph’s great-grandfather, Abraham started this “family tradition” when he favored his younger son Isaac over his first-born son Ishmael. But this favorite son Isaac would be deceived by his youngest son, Jacob who stole the birthright of his older twin – Esau. Then that Jacob was deceived by his 10 oldest sons after they sold their youngest brother, Joseph, into slavery. Tracking? See the cycle of hurt, abuse, and deceit?

And you think Thanksgiving revealed that your family had problems…

These 10 brothers/sons maintained this deceit for 20+ years, allowing their father to indefinitely grieve the death of his child. Then, they never came clean once Jacob was reunited with Joseph. Neither does it seem Joseph mentioned his brothers’ betrayal and deceit to their father, Jacob. The withholding of truth became its own prison and pain for both the sons and father.

We see the brothers’ shame, fear, remorse, and angst come to critical mass in today’s reading. These brothers clearly feared that Joseph was strategically harboring a grudge until after their father’s death, at which time he would go all Game of Thrones on them.

After all of the suffering already endured, these brothers attempt to perpetuate the cycle of deceit and hurt by lying to Joseph right after their dad’s graveside service. Joseph’s heartbroken reply, “What you meant for harm, God used for good,” reveals a forgiveness that comes from a place of true healing where God’s providence has strengthened Joseph to break the cycle of hurt.

Let’s look at another family wrestling with secrets. We’ve been walking alongside the hit TV series “This Is Us” for the past 4 weeks. We’re using the remarkable writing and acting to illustrate lessons of timeless wisdom from God. Today, we’re focusing on forgiveness. I invite you to look for concepts of forgiveness in this video.

push upsTo Jack and Rebecca, Randall is their biological child. With good intentions and the deepest love for Randal, they kept this secret from him his entire life. But, like Jacob’s sons, the withholding of truth becomes its own prison and pain for Rebecca with cascading effects on Randall. Randall recognizes that Rebecca has kept this secret for 36 years. His heartbroken & empathetic response was, “It must have been incredibly lonely.”

I think… the strength of forgiveness in this scene is when Randall steps away from his mom’s embrace… “No. Not yet.” Randall is not rushing forgiveness. He is taking the time needed to walk through the healing work toward it.  We see Joseph doing the same thing in the 14 chapters of Genesis 37-50.

Forgiveness is not microwavable. Never rush the baking of healthy forgiveness.

This leads us to the most important question of the morning…So What!?”  So what does forgiveness really mean for me today? Forgiveness seems like a whole lot of Hallmark Holiday Specials, cartoon characters, unicorns, and cotton candy when you try to apply it to. the real world.  So what does forgiveness really mean for me?

Forgiveness asks questions…lots of questions… that must be answered before it can be complete…before we can progress toward reconciliation. Here are a few…

Forgiveness Asks: “How can I choose to see the image of God in the other?” 

Choosing to see the image of God in the other person overrides my desire to withhold forgiveness.

soccerball2I play goalie on a soccer team on Sunday nights. My last game we were playing a tough team. They had already scored 2-3 times (more like 4-5 times). The lead scorer was making another move on goal. He dribbled the ball just far enough in front of him that I knew I could dive on the ball before he got to it. I made the save. But the other guy was already in the motion of kicking, so he just kicks the next closest round object: my head. He was supposed to wave off. I’m thinking, “Come on dude. It’s a rec league!” However, I wasn’t going to hold a grudge against this guy. We’re both playing a game we love. He’s my brother from another mother. I choose to see the image of God in this dude.

Joseph’s response to his brothers (50:20) “What you meant for harm, God used for good” affirms the image of God in his brothers and the situation.

Likewise, Jesus always chooses to see the image of God in others: the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Samaritans, Peter’s betrayal, the woman caught in adultery, Saul’s conversion…and… EVERYONE. When he was raised on the cross, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them…they don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s like he’s saying, ‘they’ve forgotten your image in them; remember your image which you created in them.’

When it comes to seeing the image of God in others, most forgiveness is practiced in the context of dozens of minor disputes that we have with our family, friends and loved ones. You know the disputes I’m talking about…
– If you wrestled with Black Friday shoppers…maybe literally…
– If you’ve had Thanksgiving disputes with parents/kids, aunts or uncles, or your brother’s new girlfriend or your sister’s fiance who just graduated with a political science degree… those kinds of disputes…
– If you’ve had Thanksgiving disputes over political differences, theology differences or who’s sport’s team is better. #GoArmyBeatNavy

We can either hold onto these minor disputes and hurts or we can practice forgiveness. We can’t do both.

Yet, forgiveness involves more than minor disputes. It extends to life’s biggest hurts; most of which are aimed to wound, disable, or destroy the image of God created in us. This is why forgiveness is so tough sometimes.

Forgiveness isn’t a cup of hot chocolate or a Hallmark Channel Holiday Special. It’s boot camp. It never exempts us from doing the hard work of inherent to forgiveness. Forgiveness requires puke-level work-effort.

Forgiveness rewards us with the capacity to see life and live life from Jesus’ perspective. Jesus shows us that forgiveness isn’t easy. He’s the guide.

Forgiveness Asks: “How much time do I need for this?”

The difference between God‘s forgiveness and human forgiveness is that God‘s forgiveness is preemptive and immediate because of Jesus.

There is no lag time or incubation period. As a matter fact, God offers grace and forgiveness before we ask (Romans 5:8). All God asks is that we receive it.

However, as humans, our healing takes time. Forgiveness like grief, is a process, a journey, a direction, a road trip where the mileage varies for each person and experience.

rollerskatesI was wearing the old school roller skates; 2×2 wheels in front and back. Give me a break, they were the only kind we had in the 70’s and 80’s. I was skating in the street trying to show off to my ‘new’ dad, Carl. Carl was my biological dad who had recently re-entered our life after a 7 year absence (he abandoned us in Texas, but that is another story). Mom wanted us to have the storybook family and hoped Carl had changed, but neither of them did the work required for healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Carl was grilling on the front lawn with his shirt off and I desperately wanted his attention and approval. So, I was skating fast in the street; showing off. I skated into the driveway and then “walked” on skates (tip-toe) across the front yard to where Carl was grilling. I sat in the lawn chair opposite Carl and tried to just soak up being next to my “dad.” I took off my t-shirt like he did and I even crossed my skate-bearing foot over my leg (which was awkward), to mirror my “dad”.

But as a hyperactive 9 year old, within a few minutes I wanted to go back to skating. As I stood up, my skate kicked the table with the condiments and Carl’s beer on it. Everything went flying… including Carl who flew across the grill. He grabbed me by the arm and began hitting and kicking me across the front lawn, onto the porch, into the house, across the living room, down the hall and into my bedroom.

This is just one of many times Carl would beat me, my sister, and/or my mom. I’d never known violence like this until he came into our lives. Fortunately, he only stayed around for about a year or so.

Would anyone dare tell 9 year old Lance, “Hey, you’d better forgive Carl immediately. Jesus tells us to forgive, otherwise you won’t be forgiven?”

NO… that’s misapplying Matthew 6:14-15.

Forgiveness Asks: “How much time do I need for this?” because even though Christ directs us to forgive, there is no template or timeline. Beware of the person who uses Jesus’ words to strong arm or manipulate you into what amounts to false forgiveness.

Forgiveness Asks: “How much time do I need for this?” because if forgiveness is demanded or rushed or cajoled, it’s not forgiveness. Plus, it discounts the suffering experienced and usually creates an opportunity for abuse to continue.

Forgiveness Asks: “How much time do I need for this?” because one or both people are at a place where they cannot absorb any more pain or hurt. Abusive and hurtful relationships usually gradually over time, therefore, the individuals in those relationships need to take a long time to heal – separately.

Healing and forgiveness insists we take the time necessary to name the hurt, the damage, the abuse, the injury done to us.

Forgiveness is a choice which results from you and the other person acting from spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy and rehabilitated places in life.

My forgiveness of Carl was a years’ long journey. At first I thought the only thing that needed forgiveness was what Carl did to me. But then I learned that I needed spiritual and emotional healing for what I saw Carl do to my mother and sister. Those were the hardest abuses to forgive. I couldn’t have forgiven Carl without the time it took me to heal through God’s presence and guidance.

Forgiveness Asks: “How do I break the cycle of hurt?”

God empowers us to break the cycles of hurt and abuse in our lives thru forgiveness. Forgiveness is a super-power God gives us through God’s Spirit.

Hurt people hurt people.

Carl hurt and abused because he was hurt and abused as a child by his dad, as was his dad by his granddad, and so on. Carl held onto the bitterness and anger of his abuse and relayed the abuse to us. Hurt people hurt people.

Joseph broke the generational cycle of hurt and replaced it with a future of provision (50:21).

Jesus breaks the humanity’s fallen cycle of hurt and replaces it with eternal provision and grace.

Even in my 10 year old mind, I knew I had to break the cycle of hurt. I never wanted to be like Carl, but I already had a bad temper and was beginning to make bad choices. Yet, I was raised to have faith. I knew a tactic that would ensure I would never be like Carl.  Jesus seemed like the kind of man I could try to grow up and be like. Trying to be like Jesus became my “tactic” not to be like Carl.

However, Jesus broke through my tactics and transformed me through his love, example and teachings through the gospels. It wasn’t through tactics, rather through a supernatural relationship with my true Father through Jesus that I was changed from the inside out.

My transformation was reinforced through the love, mentoring and counseling of teachers, pastors, and counselors. Through these people, Christ molded me in to seeking and finding health – spiritually, emotionally and relationally.

Hear this: Seeking the counsel of a licensed, trained counselor does not make you weak…It makes you healthy. You may be someone who need’s to quit kicking the can down the road. Make that appointment that you’ve been ducking with a credible counselor. We can provide referrals.

Let me make this clear: Jesus gave me power to forgive…otherwise, I’d have held the hurt and darkness inside. Forgiveness meant I could look to Jesus to discover a different future.

When I was 20 yrs old, my Grandma, Carl’s mother died and I was asked to be a pallbearer at her funeral. For 10 years, I had prepared my response for the next time I would possibly see Carl again. A funeral is an awkward place for a showdown. I immediately saw him when entering the funeral home. I was expecting the same man I knew as a 10 year old – a tall, menacing, and volatile man. But as I looked on him and generically greeted him, I noticed he was shorter than me and his body was ravaged by decades of alcohol and drug abuse. He was jaundiced, frail, and was missing teeth. I was shocked out of whatever I thought it was I had prepared to say.

US button2Later that evening, I was with my mom and step-dad (I called him “Dad” because he was my true dad who loved me sacrificially his whole life…but that’s another story) having dinner at my aunt’s house. After dinner, Carl came into the house and we passed in the hallway. It was this moment when Carl attempted to extend a olive branch, actually a brass US insignia that was his when he served in the Army as a young man in Vietnam. He was attempting to establish some form of connection with a son he had neglected or abused for 20 years. He knew I was in the Army, so he was trying to connect in any way he could conjure. He held the US insignia in his hand and extended it to me. All he said to me in a partially drunken slur was, “If our country…if you guys ever need…I’ll be right there next to you guys.” In that moment, my anger evaporated and I felt this emotional wave rush through me. Forgiveness replaced anger in me for a man so visibly broken and isolated by his choices.

In that moment, I realized that because of Christ’s transforming work in me during those 10 years, I would never be like Carl. I knew the cycle was broken.

What Carl did to harm us, God transformed into something good.

Forgiveness realizes that the other person may never recognize, admit, or acknowledge what they did was wrong. That day may never come. You may simply need to do your healing and choose to forgive so you can break the cycle of hurt and be free.

There are some hurts and abuses which will always be with you. There will be scars that will never fully fade away. Forgiveness allows God to transform the abuse you’ve suffered or the mistakes you’ve made into something good and productive. What has been intended to harm you, God can transform into something good.

Forgiveness simply says, “I will no longer hold this against you.” However, sometimes healthy forgiveness also has to say, “but we can no longer be friends or family in the way that we were.”

If Carl were alive today, we’d have to have boundaries. Actually we did while he was alive. I lived in Oklahoma and Florida and he lived in Missouri. He never turned from alcohol or drugs or his pattern of abuse. My own healing helped me know that I wasn’t and could never be the one to try and fix him.

For you, forgiveness/breaking the cycle of hurt may mean finding another job if there is abuse or ongoing hurt at work. It may mean making new friends if your social circles involve you being the continual brunt of jokes or abuse.

Forgiveness is setting someone free and realizing it you. 

free2

Forgiveness Asks: “Whom do I need to ask for forgiveness?”

Forgiveness realizes that I need forgiveness.

There’s no complicated instruction for asking for forgiveness. Just approach, apologize, and ask. That’s what we learned in Kindergarten and still applies to us as adults.

What about you? Are you withholding forgiveness or need forgiveness from another? From yourself?

The person most difficult to forgive is often ourselves. How, where, when are you going to forgive yourself for that mistake or that failure or that personal disappointment?

push upsRemember the push-up scene in the This Is Us excerpt?

I like to transpose Jesus over that scene…
Jesus’ back was built to carry God’s children through life.
Jesus is willing to hold us up no matter what comes our way.
Jesus is willing to raise each of God’s children into strong disciples who change the world.
Jesus is willing to push us toward being the best people in this world in this life that we can be.
Jesus will be enough for you.
Jesus is willing to lift us to greater heights even if it hurts him.
Jesus won’t stop doing push ups with us on his back…because that’s what God is like…that what God does.
I can hear Jesus saying, “I won’t stop.”

Forgiveness reveals that God loves you before you ever get your stuff together.

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