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Posts Tagged ‘Mercy’

My thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ . . . Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:1-3, 7(NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change others and must strive to accept them as they are, not as I would wish them to be.”

If you are anything like me, it’s often a struggle to accept people as they are. Especially those who are close to us!

The crunch comes the closer people get to each other –

Wives accepting husbands

Husbands accepting wives

Parents accepting Children

Children accepting parents

Brothers accepting sisters

Sisters accepting brothers

Co-workers accepting co-workers

And the list goes on!

The reality is that people will not and cannot change to meet all of our demands and expectations. To live in hope that this will happen is a false reality.

The verses quoted above come from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament. This age-old dilemma of not being able to accept others was of course an issue in the early church. Paul’s words are quite challenging for us even today.

The model for the follower of Jesus is to accept others regardless of their failures and weaknesses just as God has accepted us in Jesus.

When we stop and reflect on it the word “unconditional” should come to mind. God’s love toward us is not conditioned on our ability to change ourselves and “clean up our act” so that we can make ourselves more acceptable to God.

When we were hopeless and heartless cases God reached out to us in His Son. Jesus Christ demonstrated His love for us through sacrificial service even to the point of death. Throughout the ages God has been making allowances for us to come to Him in a personal relationship just as we are!

Several years ago my wife was talking to a woman who had been attending Bible Studies for several months but had been unable to commit her life to Jesus in a personal way. When my wife discovered what was blocking her it was the problem of her smoking! Another Christian worker had told her that unless she “gave up” smoking God would not accept her.

This is actually the opposite of the Gospel of Jesus. The good news is that we can never “clean up” our lives enough to be acceptable to God. That is why God has made our redemption possible through Jesus.

It’s also helpful to realize that as we take a closer look at Scripture we see that God has the ability to separate us from our sins and failings and does not judge our value as people based on what we do or don’t do.

Finite beings though we are, we often have difficulty separating people from what they do. When the actions of others displease us we tend to judge them and “write them off” in our books as being unacceptable.

I think this works in tandem with how we view ourselves. If we are unable to separate our own failings from our “worthiness” as human beings and forgive ourselves it will be difficult to forgive and accept others. The deep knowledge that our sins and failures do not define who we are will pave the way for us to extend the same grace to others.

Paul’s instructions to us are for the stated purpose of “building others up” instead of tearing them down. When you think about it this is what God is in the process of doing with us. Paul says that being able to accept others unconditionally is a sign of strength – not weakness. The more we grow in this area the stronger we become.

If we truly believe in a personal God who has revealed Himself through Jesus and accepts us unconditionally when we turn to Him how much more should we be accepting of others regardless of their shortcomings or attitudes toward us?

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“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  . .’ ” Matthew 18:21-23 (NIV)

“Here’s the deal,” coach blurted out. “I can give ALL of you one lick and we’ll forget about it, or I’ll give ALL of you three licks and THEN we’ll talk about it.”

Even though it was over forty years ago I can still hear coach Hall’s tone of voice and sense my feeling of helplessness.

It was my third year of secondary school and I was one of about fifteen second and third year students who were taking golf for their physical education requirement. There was a good system in place whereby we played a few holes of golf at local courses after school and then were required to hand in signed scorecards the following day proving we weren’t skipping out.  

Early in this particular year we had a stretch of frosty weather and by the time we got out to the courses they were closed. A few days of this went by and no cards were showing up at school. We all thought we had passed on clear information on the matter to Mr. Hall our basketball coach-turned-golf-monitor. But to our shock he decided to dispense with the perceived problem en masse. He called a short meeting after school and meted out the discipline he thought would rectify our infraction to the satisfaction of the school administration. It was a simple case to him that no cards were showing up and we were all guilty!

That day I and my teammates were victims of unexpected injustice as we all lined up for the ONE very painful and quick paddle to the backside while the coach was temporarily relieved to think that he had fairly rectified the situation. Little did any of us know what would happen next!

Being on the receiving end of unfair treatment brings wounds that can last for years. The deeper the wound the more difficult it is to forgive. Many have observed that the wounded who refuse to forgive are actually held captive by the offenders who often forget about their actions because they may be nursing wounds themselves.

I think we all find forgiving those who have wounded us to be a difficult matter.

Where we live in Ireland we find this repeatedly with victims of family and institutional abuse. One of my colleagues is a specialist in counselling adult victims of child sexual abuse. From all I have gleaned from her over the years I know that forgiveness in these situations is a process.  It’s one that can last for years and even over a lifetime.

We are also all too familiar with institutional abuse in this country. The Magdalene  laundries and their enduring legacy have returned to the Irish news in recent days. These were institutions which existed in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe and even in North America from the 18th to the late-20th centuries supposedly to house “fallen women.” Originally designed to be agencies of mercy they eventually became instruments of abuse and bondage for many girls who ended up there.

My heart goes out to the women who were victims of these institutions and no amount of whitewashing can take away the enduring emotional pain of the victims as well as perhaps the perpetrators of the abuse who were likely themselves victimized in their younger days.

Although no injustice  I have ever experienced has come anywhere near the abuse many like these women have experienced I do know that bitterness and a refusal to forgive others blinds us to our own sin and rebellion. When we consider forgiving  those who have wounded us it often causes us to forget our own rebellion and the harm we have caused others.

Ultimately the only way we can understand and cope with forgiveness is in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told a story in Matthew chapter 18:21-35 of two servants who owed debts. One’s debt was enormous and the other was pretty minor. The comparison  of the debt is between the first servant who owed  “ten thousand talents” or millions to his master vs. another servant who owed  very little, “a hundred denarii,” to the other servant.

The story is one of extreme contrast – the first servant, after begging for mercy was released from his debt only to go out and exercise harsh judgement against his fellow servant who owed him very little.

Jesus had a way of putting things in perspective. The implication is that no matter how great the infraction against us may seem, there is our Master in heaven whom we have grossly offended. Our debt is enormous – no matter how much we try to minimize it. From our perspective, what others have done against us always seems large and worthy of ultimate justice. In fact, just the opposite is true. The person who bows the knee to Jesus,  who ultimately paid the price for all sin and injustice at the cross, is the One who carried the brunt of the worst abuse anyone could suffer.

The simple fact is that we have no idea of the large debt we owe to our Heavenly Father. Despite the enormous size of the debt it has been cancelled at the Cross of Jesus. We who have been the  greatest recipients of Grace and Mercy are called on to forgive any debts that are taken out against us.

The message is all too clear and all too difficult to cope with at times.

When Mr. Hall thought that he had settled the matter of the missing scorecards, he didn’t realize that one of the student’s mother’s (mine) would issue a complaint against him to the Principal. After some quick deliberations the Principal cancelled the golf programme for us younger students for the remainder of the school year. We ended up in the gym for physical education instead of on the golf course.  Now I was working through forgiving my mother for making a fuss about the situation!

In a world where abuse, violence and injustice will probably be with us until the Lord’s return we still have to work through the actions and attitudes related to forgiveness. It’s only at the Cross of Jesus where Sin and Grace meet. Only there we glean insight into the forgiveness we need to receive and give on a daily basis.  

In the end I think we have to admit that those of us who are the recipients of greater mercy are to be greater instruments of forgiveness as well.  

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