It is Super Bowl week. And I live in the market of one of the two teams. Unfortunately though I am not excited. Not one bit. If anything I am rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion. He has been a great ambassador for the game, and for him to win his last game (Super Bowl 50 no less) and to announce retirement in the post-game interviews would be great.
Football fans know that “FG” stands for field goal. Those pesky 3 point attempts that essentially say “We are not good enough to score a touchdown, so we will settle for 3 points instead.” I have often made the comment that field goals lose games.
But for this blog “FG” represents forgiveness and grace. Two items that are not the lessor of two options (like a field goal) but something even greater than a touchdown. As for me, I am horrible at both. In fact, I am miserably horrible at both. If the New Testament is right (and of course it is) that forgiveness and grace are signs of Christian maturity, then I am a mere embryo, I am not even out of the womb yet. This June will mark my 15th year of being a servant of Christ. I have a lot of head knowledge, I have served on the board of a Christian ministry, I faithfully served Christ in many capacities, I have lead small groups, I have lead children’s Sunday school, I have lead mission trips, I have read the bible front to back several times, I have debated and won, I have knocked on doors, I have fed the poor, I have tithed, I have brought my children up in the ways of Christ, I have read COUNTLESS books, I have lead people to the Lord, I have a solid prayer life, I live (by all accounts) a solid moral life, I am known by my co-workers as a follower of Christ……but I fail at forgiveness and grace.
It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized just how impotent I was in these areas. I thought I had forgiven people for past hurts – in fact I was positive. But the older I got, and the more I realized the symptoms of an unforgiving heart, the more I realized just how unforgiving I was. I first recognized it in other people. I have never been a big fan of gossip – just a waste of time in my opinion. But I recognized this was a sign of someone unforgiving. Passive-aggressive behavior, browbeating, never letting an issue go, intentionally withholding good (or its twin sister, intentionally doing evil) were all signs I saw in other people of unforgiveness. It was like a neon sign across their forehead. But I was ignorant of my own guilt.
As for grace….oh my I have been horrifically bad. And no, I am not exaggerating, I have been flat out bad at this! I must admit a bit of frustration with God for not addressing this a decade ago. However, for all the good on my resume, I have been a man with little grace. I get an “F” in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Grace is at the core of Christ’s redemptive message. Even the skeptic of Christ will admit the beauty and strangeness of grace. It is utterly nonhuman.
The beginning of becoming a person of grace is first recognizing your absolute need of it from God. That your relationship with God through Christ is rooted in grace alone, not merit. You never earn it – yet you never fumble it away. Grace isn’t acting like bad things don’t exist, and it certainly isn’t simply sweeping things under the rug. Grace is a constant desire to see a person become who Christ desires them to be. It is a humble reminder of how broken I am, and outpouring the same patience God gives me in my moments of weakness, and to in turn give that kind of love and patience back to others. It is all about putting other’s well-being ahead of my own. Other’s status, accomplishments, desires, time, and needs ahead of mine. It is all the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) into action….24 hours a day.
My life has been filled with score keeping. Especially in the areas of how people have wronged me. My ability to recall in great detail a moment of being let down by someone is frighteningly accurate and vivid. My “inner lawyer” (that voice in your head that is always telling you how you’re being mistreated, and to be careful, and remember how this person treated you that one day….) is phenomenal. My inner lawyer could’ve been on OJ’s defense team. He can argue my position and build a case in two minutes. Really he deserves a raise. Only problem is he hasn’t had an hour off in 35 years. My inability to be a man of grace and forgiveness has kept him working every day I am alive. He is constantly reminding me of my hurts. He is in short constantly reminding me that I haven’t forgiven.
Last month I began seeing a Christian counselor. Some on the outside may think it is for marriage, but in reality it is to work on me. One other sin I have been guilty of is the sin of self-sufficiency. I have always been self-sufficient. I have always felt in my heart, no matter the challenge – “I will beat this.” Well, the issues of forgiveness and grace are two areas I can’t beat. Try as I may, I only get worse and worse. I think my getting worse and worse is God’s grace towards me. He essentially has to let me fail miserably before a U-turn is made.
Later today is my third session with the counselor. Part of me is humiliated. My self-sufficiency says that “asking for help is a weakness”. But part of me is extremely proud, because it takes a lot of courage to go to counseling. I am also a very private person (nothing sinful here) and I know how folks love to gossip and make assumptions, so I am sure I am part of the occasional group discussion.
As the Christian message often is – there are a lot of paradoxes going on. While I am at my lowest (since cancer) I am at the same time experiencing Christ in a fresh new way. I haven’t been this “alive in Christ” in years. While on one hand I am exhausted, on the other I am full of energy. While part of me sees Satan working through people I would’ve never guessed, I also see Christ working through people I would’ve never guessed. While part of me wants to crawl in a hole, part of me wants to dance in the streets. While part of me is uncomfortable with the rest of 2016, part of me hasn’t been so excited to live life.
Because forgiveness and grace are heart issues, the road to victory is going to be long and full of peril. I am frustrated when a Christian message gives a one, two, three formula to dealing with heart issues. BS! And the opportunities to quit will be plenty. Quit and run back to what I am used too. Those things I am used too are what Jesus called idols.
I shudder at all the people I never forgave. Our world isn’t one to forgive, we simply move onto what appears to be something better. People are like socks (whether family, friends or lovers), if you don’t like it, get a new one. And trust me, the world is full of people that will encourage you to do what is easiest. Very, very few people (including Christians) will encourage you to take the long, hard road, which is primarily not looking at the person who has wronged you, but taking a strong look at yourself.
Last week I told my counselor that I was fearful of what Satan had up his sleeve. His comment “That’s nothing, you should also be fearful of what God has up his sleeve as well.”