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for Miffy 🙂
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Mark 11:23-25 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

9-1-2012

“You don’t have to climb the whole mountain at once.” His voice beside her made her jump. She’d been so intent on the mountain, she hadn’t heard His approach.

“Huh?” she said a little stupidly.

He replied with an amiable chuckle. “You’ve been staring at the mountainside above us for at least half an hour, trying to find the way up it or over it or through it or around it. Just like you have every single time we’ve paused to rest or camp. All I said was that you don’t have to climb the mountain all at once.”

She stared at Him, trying to find her way through the new idea He’d presented her with. “But I can’t live my life freely unless the unforgiveness no longer looms in my way. I mean, until I can successfully surmount this obstacle, I can’t properly love the people You’ve put in my life to love.”

She stared back at the mountain, and He let her puzzle over it a bit more on her own.

“Are you saying that total and complete forgiveness is too big a project to complete all at once? That somehow . . . ” she trailed off but looked at Him hopefully (hoping He’d caught enough of this question she didn’t quite have words for).

“When you have to tackle the peak, you’ll be able to. But you’re not there yet,” He threw an arm around her shoulders and they stood together looking up at the peaks ahead and above them.

I’m just so tired of its shadow being everpresent and not knowing what to do to surmount it,” she said softly. “I’ve done all I know to do, and the bulk of it is still there.”

He squeezed her shoulders. “Just do what you know to do,” He said. “You’ll stand on your high places one of these days.”

“Scout’s honor?” she asked teasingly.

He shook his head in mock solemnity. “Guide’s  honor,” He said.

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*Mountain Guides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_guide
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Note: this sketch is one that came to mind a few years ago when wrestling with some of the feelings and questions that come with forgiveness. In talking through the topic of forgiveness in Bible study today, this sketch came to mind as we were discussing the way forgiveness is not only a choice but also a process.

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“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.”
~Nelson Rockefeller

I have come back to that quote many times in my life. It’s hopeful. And it’s something that I need to be reminded of.

But today is Good Friday, and even though its name refers to the amazing victory love won on the cross–the greatest good in the world–I cannot escape the fact that today we are celebrating the Day that Love Didn’t Work.

Now, at face value, perhaps, that claim sounds unnecessary and even melodramatic. After all, we know the end of the story. Love wins, right? How can you say that love “didn’t work” when it obviously did?

Because on Good Friday it isn’t obvious.

On Good Friday Love Doesn’t Work.

Love, if it is the most powerful force in the world, is supposed to work. It’s supposed to win. To make the world a better place. To right wrongs, to restore what’s been lost, to bring warmth and light. To bring safety. To draw together. To triumph. To work. To be successful. To come out on top.

But for those of us who choose love over hate, over lust, over violence, over demanding and demeaning, over fear–for anyone who chooses love, Good Friday inevitably comes. A day when love falls short, fails, loses, and leaves you standing holding the bag and paying the price.

A woman’s husband cheats on her. She finds out, he confesses all, she forgives and takes him back. Loves. He cheats again. Love didn’t change a thing.

A brother, a sister, a friend reveals–through words or actions that cut us to the core–how very little we matter to him (or her) when push comes to shove. Of what value is the love that we had poured into that relationship?

Here’s the story that is filling my mind today:
Corrie ten Boom survived grueling years in Nazi prison camps and emerged with a deep desire to help others experience the power of God’s love that had sustained her through some of the worst mankind has ever thrown at its fellowmen. She began to travel and speak of the power of God’s love and forgiveness and to watch other Holocaust survivors slowly recover from the horrors they had experienced. One evening after she spoke a man came up to talk to her. His face was radiant with joy, but she recognized him. He was one of the guards at one of the prison camps. Seeing him brought back memories and intense feelings of shame pouring back into her. Not just memories, but vivid, all-but-relived experiences of standing in line, stripped and exposed before a posse of male guards. He had been one of them. And here he was holding out his hand to shake hers. Here he was with joyful tears in his eyes exclaiming how wonderful God’s forgiveness is. Here he was wanting to shake her hand. And here she was feeling again all of the shame and humiliation and degradation. She couldn’t shake his hand.*

Here is where Good Friday puts us: holding the bag for all of the hurt and injustice and shame and degradation of what has been done to us in return for our love.

I can put myself in Corrie’s shoes so easily. If I shake his hand, if I forgive, I am no longer holding him responsible for this debt. I am no longer holding it against him. He is getting off scott free [I always wonder about the original scott that got away free like that. Where in the world did that expression come from?]. And yes, maybe I don’t want to see him in a concentration camp. Maybe I don’t want to see him ruined, but what about this pain and this shame that I am left holding because of what he did to me? Where do I go to get justice for this terrible injustice?

This is what Good Friday is all about. Yes, it’s about God’s amazing love for us and about the price He paid to have our sins forgiven. But we can only truly begin to understand that love when we stand at our own Good Friday holding the bag for all the things that have been done to us, things that can never be undone. When we stand at our own place where love did not work and are asked yet again to choose love. And when we find that we don’t have enough love to cover this pain. This is where Good Friday finds us.

See, we tend to think of how hard it is to forgive our enemies, but the truth of the matter is that forgiveness is hardest when we have been wronged by someone in whom we see great good. We struggle and struggle to reconcile what was done to us with what we know and love about the person who has done it. How could he do ______ when he promised _______? How could she _______ when I know that she truly did love me? Or how could someone who did _______ ever do anything good again?

We look at the cross from our vantage point of wretchedness and marvel that God could love “a wretch like me.” We see that we have nothing inherently lovable by which to commend ourselves to God. Just sinners saved by grace.

We fail to see that God’s vantage point provides a very different view. We are beings created in His image. We are worth loving because He made us and because He is worth loving. And when God sees our sin, He sees His very image doing things that should never be done. He sees all of the good that He planted within us, all the good that He knows we can be. Good that cannot be reconciled with the evil that we have chosen. We began in the Garden of Eden as His friends; and we turned away from Him, rejected Him. We did something completely inconsistent with that un-eradicable image of God that each of us bears. The image of God turned against God Himself.

Here is where we truly begin to see God’s love: when we stand in our own pain, feeling that love has failed. When we stand in the enormity of the injustice we are left holding . . . and realize that God is standing with us.

Because the cross was the ultimate moment of love’s failure.

Mankind’s failure to love as it has been loved.
Love’s failure to draw mankind back to itself through eons of goodness poured out in sun and rain and harvest blessing.
Love’s failure to keep even His own people faithful, to keep them from straying to other gods like unfaithful spouses to extramarital affairs.
Love’s failure to win the hearts of His people by coming to them in person and letting them see Him in all His beautiful and vulnerable goodness.

The cross is the place where the greatest risk fell flat and the greatest injustice was done when the greatest lover of all time was put to death in proof that love is not more powerful than greed, that love is not more powerful than lust, that love is not more powerful than fear, that love is not more powerful than any other motive you can put in that blank.

The love that conquers all was conquered on the cross.

I know. There’s something in us that doesn’t want to stay here and take a good look. There’s something in us that wants to protest that love really did conquer all, that the defeat of the cross was actually a triumph, that Jesus endured the cross because He knew how it was going to end.

All of which is true.

But we know the end of our story as well. We know love wins. Yet standing at the cross it’s impossible to feel that ending.

And that is ok. Because God did not skip to the end. He stood for 3 hours (who knows how eternal those hours felt to someone not bound by time!) and grieved with grief so deep that it darkened the sky. And perhaps the most healing thing that we can do when we come to the place where our love has been wasted or trashed or killed is to stop and look. To take a good look at the cross and at the Father standing there holding the bag for all the injustices that have ever been done.

This is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Good Friday.
This is the Day that Love Didn’t Work
This is the Day that God died

This.

This is love.

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*for those who want to read the end to Miss ten Boom’s story, it’s found at the end of her amazing book The Hiding Place

Grace and comfort
To the sorrowful sinner:
Forgiveness

2-11-2011

October 28, 2011
for D.
i
Someone said the test of love
Is making the hard decisions–
Choosing, for another’s sake,
Those necessary actions;
Taking the right path
Though it be
Strewn with rocks,
Watered with tears, and
Fraught with exhaustion or worse.
Love chooses what is best
For the beloved,
What must be chosen,
Shouldered, borne, done,
In spite of what might be
Preferred,
Regardless of what had been
Previously hoped.
ii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Opening wide the door and
Allowing the loved one to
Walk out
Into a new adventure,
A new phase of the story being told:
Love writes the ending of the last
Chapter (knowing there are some
Parts that will be missed as they are
Packed away to make room for the new)
And turns the page to the next beginning,
Not letting nostalgia rob the future
Of its joy, but not insisting
On walking the next miles of the journey,
Knowing it is time,
Promising to still be waiting
With an open door.
iii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Throwing open the cage and
Letting the bird go free,
Removing jesses, tethers,
Putting away the scissors that kept
The freedom-loving wings clipped,
Accepting the snappings of the
Wild spirit
And not hindering
The soul from seeking its own,
Perhaps its angry or foolish, way.
Love does not quibble about
What is fair or proper or usual,
But opens its coffers to give the
Requested inheritance,
Opens its arms to release the son,
And watches his form fade into
The distance
Perhaps never to return.
iv
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Standing firm on embattled ground
Till hand forgets how to let go the spear,
Till the fight has been won or
Every last ounce of strength has been
Exhausted in the attempt.
Love refuses to recant what is
True and just and right;
Love refuses to accept in its place
The darkness of deceit,
Fighting on for what is best,
Not easiest.
v
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Refusing to give in,
Refusing to throw away all hope.
Love chooses to remember,
To affirm
All that is noble and worthy and true
In the beloved,
Even when the beloved has forgotten
The meaning of those words.
vi
This love–it is not blind:
It asks of us that we not forget but forgive,
Canceling the unpaid debts,
Knowing they may never be recognized,
May never be paid,
Yet trusting in the One Who pays all debts.
And this love–it is not easy:
yes, this love is hard.
Because it does not feel as love
Should feel, we think–
All warm and soft and comfortable–
We look at it askance,
Wonder at times if we chose rightly.
One thing we can know for certain:
Choosing to make the hard choices
For the sake of the beloved
Proves love’s quality.
vii
Because sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
It asks of us that we open our hand
(That we not hinder)
But requires of us, strictly,
To harbor that unlikely songbird
Hope
In our heart of hearts
To sing in the darkness.
viii
Yes, sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
And that is why Love is . . .
A father scanning the horizon
Day after day
Waiting for his son’s return,
For that speck in the distance
To take on his child’s familiar gait
And then for those beloved features
To come into clearer focus as the
Wanderer returns.
That’s why Love is . . .
The only-begotten Son, the Promised King
Accepting the rejection of His people,
Dying the death
Of a vile criminal at their request
To secure a greater deliverance
Than they could dream for themselves,
Losing His hold over them in order to
Hold onto them forever.
vi
This love–it is not blind:
It asks of us that we not forget but forgive,
Canceling the unpaid debts,
Knowing they may never be recognized,
May never be paid,
Yet trusting in the One Who pays all debts.
And this love–it is not easy:
yes, this love is hard.
Because it does not feel as love
Should feel, we think–
All warm and soft and comfortable–
We look at it askance,
Wonder at times if we chose rightly.
One thing we can know for certain:
Choosing to make the hard choices
For the sake of the beloved
Proves love’s quality.

May 2009

Make me human, Lord.
Gentle and soft to the touch,
Quick to find joy in the
Everyday and the commonplace.

Make me human, Lord.
Teach me how to be hurt
So I may heal and forgive
Those hurting humans around me.

Make me human, Lord.
Let those who see me see You
In your humanity—
Weak yet strong,
Humble and wise,
Patient and kind.

You made Yourself human,
Imperviousness taking on vulnerability,
Infinity becoming visible, palpable.
Then You came to live in me.
Make me human, Lord.
Let me so dwell in You
Who lives in me
That I know I’m safe,
Safe to be me,
Safe to be real.
Human.

Another September 11 has come and gone. As I wrote the date yesterday, it suddenly hit me what day it was–and what the significance was! September 11 was the day that terrorist attacks became more than just international news; they became part of the American experience.

The thing about terrorist attacks is that they are unreachable and indefatigable. Difficult to pin down, they exhaust you and make you start to wonder if there are other ways to obtain peace. Because that’s what you want–you didn’t want to pick the fight with them; they lashed out at you while you were busy living and letting them live. And as you start wracking your brain for other alternatives, as you try to make sense out of what happened, you start to see their point of view a little more, start to grasp their motives a little better. And then it’s easy for things to become more and more twisted from the effort of trying to make sense out of it all. And then you begin to accept the blame little by little for what happened, hoping that if you come half-way, if you accept your part of the blame, they will admit their part and meet you in the middle. After all, isn’t that how peace comes in normal relationships?

But terrorism is not a normal relationship. And the terrorists are not interested in making peace. They are not going to admit they were wrong. They are not the ones that want peace–you are.

Somewhere along the line we have to realize what forgiving others really means. Forgiveness stems from a recognition of the wrong that has been done to us, not from rationalizing the behavior. Forgiveness has to be firmly grounded in truth. Sometimes the truth may include the fact that the person who wronged us did so unintentionally, but it cannot ignore the wrong! Nor can it ignore the fact that there is a price to be paid for what was done to us. Instinctively we know that the price must be paid, and that’s how we get things twisted–when the other person refuses to acknowledge his wrong, we begin to wonder if perhaps we deserved it all along and then start to think that we are simply paying for our wrongs ourselves. That mindset bears only a small resemblance to the truth and it stops us from truly forgiving and moving on. Instead it makes us a slave to the one that has hurt us and now holds power over us.

It works that way with bullies on playgrounds. Why would it be any different between nations and people groups?

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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