Forgiveness, part 3

When we forgive, it is not so much for the benefit of the offender as it is to release ourselves from the prison of anger, bitterness, and depression. 

Have you ever met this poor woman?  Have you ever seen any other expression on her face than this one? Hard to deal with, isn’t it?  No matter what you do, she’ll always spot the error, always bring it loudly to your attention, always be angry. The sad thing is, she doesn’t even know why she’s so unpleasant and hard to please. 

When I was working on my master’s degree, I did a year of practicum in a nursing home.  I was a case worker, which meant that I had a regular list of residents that I looked after.  Sometimes it was just a matter of going in and spending some time talking with them.  There were other things to deal with, too, like family members who had questions or complaints; convincing a resident that she needed to stop ringing her bell every minute all night long; convincing them to eat, to tend to hygiene when they could, and so on. 

There was one man that I was warned about. “He’s a real grouch, Linda.  He’ll complain incessantly, and his language turns the air blue.  You’ll have to handle him carefully.”

Well, good grief.  This should a fun! 

The first time I went to see him, he greeted me with,”Well, finally!  I heard they were sending me someone new, and it’s about time you showed up.  Where have you been, anyway?”

“I’ve been avoiding you, Mr. Z, that’s where I’ve been.  And if you’re going to continue with this attitude, I’m leaving.”

He was stunned, speechless.  After a few seconds, though, he got his second wind and started in on a tirade ranging from his childhood to his most recent meal.  I gave him about ten minutes before I interrupted him. 

“Okay, Mr. Z, I think I’ve heard enough. It’s clear you’ve been mistreated, misunderstood, and abused all your life. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m just not going to come here every day to listen to you complain.  So here’s the deal. Tomorrow, when I come, you need to have a story to tell me about something good that happened to you when you were a kid. No griping, no complaining.  One positive story, and that’s all. If you can’t think of anything, I’ll come again the next day and the next until you come up with something positive. Understood?”

Again, he sat on his bed gaping at me, with nothing at all to say.  Finally–“You can’t do that!  I’ll report you!  I’ll have your job! I’ll—“

“See you tomorrow, Mr. Z.”

What he didn’t know was that I’d already informed all the appropriate people about my plans for Mr. Z, and they were all curious to see how it would go.  He’d been terrorizing the caregivers for months, and they dreaded having to go into his room.  I wasn’t worried at all. 

He had a positive story for me the next day. As time passed, we actually became friends.  Finally, I was able to talk with him about spiritual things, and I suggested to him that he would be much happier if he would learn to forgive those who had hurt him over the years.He was astonished at the idea, believing sincerely that the only possible reaction to mistreatment was anger.

The trouble with that, of course, is that the anger was eating him up from the inside, and it wasn’t affecting those he hated in any way. 

Anger itself is not sin.  What we do in our anger is another story, and often the greatest sin we commit in anger is against our own hearts and spirits.  Years ago, I read Tim LaHaye’s book How to Win over Depression. He wrote that offense leads to hurt and anger, leads to self-pity, leads to bitterness, leads to depression.  The only way to break that progression is after the hurt/anger part, and the thing that breaks the chain is to choose to forgive.  It is to realize that you yourself are far more hurt by your bitterness than is the person who hurt you. Even more important, your bitterness spills out like acid over all the other people in your life, who have no idea why your tongue is so sharp and your attitude is so critical.  They don’t understand that you learned those behaviors as a defense against mistreatment. They only know you’re hard to deal with, and they try to avoid you when they can. 

Mr. Z was transferred to another facility about halfway through my year.  I don’t remember why. But he left me a note, since the transfer was made over a weekend when I wasn’t there.  The note said, “Hey, smartypants, you won’t have to see me again.  But I’ll remember  you.”

 

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The Stone Which the Builders Rejected, householder part 3

Matthew 21:40-46. “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eye? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard His parables, they perceived that He spake of them (italics mine). But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitude, because they took Him for a prophet.”

“What will the householder do to the husbandmen?,”  asked Jesus.  Again, the priests and elders were caught on the horns of a dilemma. If they gave the correct answer, that would show that they completely understood the parable.  If they lied, it would show them up for the scripturally ignorant men they were. Interestingly, they chose the correct answer.  They said, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men!”  I think they figured they’d come off better with the truth on this one. Of course, they still weren’t completely convinced that Jesus was Who He said He was, so they were willing to take a chance on being shown up yet again.

The next thing Jesus said was based on Psalm 118:22-23,  The builders were the religious leaders of national Israel. Jesus, of course, was the Stone that the builders were rejecting. Cast out of Israel, the vineyard, Jesus would become the Cornerstone of the Church that would spread the gospel to all nations, bringing the truth of salvation by grace through faith to all who would hear.  And finally, those who refused the Cornerstone would be destroyed.

What a dramatic prophecy, one that made the chief priests and elders grind their teeth in fury.  But they were afraid to lay hands on Him, because the common people still looked on Him as a prophet.

Next week, we’ll start Chapter 22, with another familiar parable, as Jesus sets the stage for accomplishing what He came to earth to do.

The Householder, part 2

Matthew 21:36-39. “Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.”

In a final effort, the householder sent his son to the vineyard to gather the profits from the husbandmen.  Surely, thought the father, they will respect my son and heir, and he will settle the problems there.

Imagine the consternation and fury the elders and priest must have felt as Jesus uttered these words. The very Son that the Father had sent was standing in their midst. They had to understand what He was saying. How would they treat the Son? Will they receive Him and His message? No, not for a moment. Their desire to see Jesus destroyed must have hardened in that moment into the plans they made to trick Him, trap Him, accuse Him and kill Him; to take Him outside the city and destroy Him, and seize His inheritance.

It is through His death, and resurrection, that we receive His inheritance, becoming joint-heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17).  That all would benefit by Jesus’ death was not in the plans of the chief priests, of course, but they did not know that they were part of the plan to bring salvation to a lost and dying world. They only knew that they had to destroy Christ before He destroyed their influence and power.

Jesus made sure they knew that He knew their hearts and minds. He knew what they wanted.

The Householder, part one

Matthew 21:33-36. “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.”

This is a more complicated parable, and still it keeps the religious leaders in place. This time, the parable reviews the history of their nation and predicts the calamity that will soon come to Israel.  Later on, we’ll find that these men understood exactly what Jesus’ story was about. They must have figured it out pretty quickly, when Jesus spoke of the vineyard, the hedge and the winepress, the tower and the husbandmen, as well as of the fruit the vineyard was to yield.  Israel, the nation to whom He had come to offer the Kingdom.  Israel, a vineyard, is an Old Testament picture. The parable is founded upon Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, and Psalm 53:8.  All these words had already been spoken to the prophets of old, and now He was come in the flesh  to flash the truth of God’s mercy to Israel, their shameful past and the still greater sin in the hearts of these national leaders. The vineyard was not bearing fruit.  The servants who came to the vineyard are the prophets sent by God, who had been rejected and mistreated.

We’ll look at the rest of the story tomorrow.  It is a heartbreaking picture of the hearts of men who have had every opportunity to thrive, and yet when they are held accountable, they fail to bear fruit.  Let’s not be too quick to point the finger at unbelieving Israel.  We’re no different. Our hearts easily grow cold and hard, and it often takes persecution to bring us to our knees in repentance for our unbelief.

The Two Sons

Matthew 21:28-32. “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons: and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?  They say unto Him, The first.  Jesus saith unto them, Verily, I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”

 

Jesus  was still addressing the chief priests and elders when he told this parable.  He had just refused to answer their question about His authority, because they would not answer His question about John’s baptism. He then went on to teach this parable, and I can only imagine the consternation, anger, frustration, malice, and deadly rage those haughty men must have felt as the Master spoke. Why didn’t they just walk away and leave Him standing there talking to Himself?  They couldn’t!  I believe that His authority was so compelling that they were literally unable to turn their backs on Him until He was finished with them. 

The story doesn’t need a great deal of interpretation. Jesus made the meaning and the application clear. These polished, cultured, educated religious priest and elders were far worse, far more obnoxious than the tax gatherers and harlots they despised, yet Jesus told them clearly that publicans and sinners would enter heaven ahead of them. Outrageous statement! Preposterous!

The publicans and harlots are represented by the son who said he would not go, but then repented and went. The second, the liar, is not repentant. He represents the proud religious Pharisee, the high priests and elders. The root of their problem was unbelief. 

The next parable is even more inflammatory.  Stay tuned. 

The Fall

(written by Linda Kreger, inspired by the first scenes in the above video)

 

Old Mr. Petrovski was in a hurry.  He had medicine in his pocket for his wife,  He’d just been to the drugstore, and had visited too long there with the druggist who had taken care of him and his family for over 40 years.  Now, he needed to get back to the apartment and make sure Zofia got the medication that would ease her headache and allow her to sleep.

“Zofia,” he thought, as he hurried to the corner where traffic was speeding by. “How could I have left you so long, my dear Zofia!  But I’m coming, I’m coming, and soon your poor head will be better.”

Looking carefully, Mr. Petrovski saw that the light had changed.  Still, he was cautious.  His eyes weren’t as sharp as they’d been when he was young. But there were no vehicles moving against the light, so he placed his cane carefully over the curb, making sure it was stable on the pavement of the street before he stepped off and made his way across.

“Such a bother, such a trouble,” he muttered to himself as he hurried as fast as his lame knees and failing vision would allow.  He thought with longing of the days when he would fly home to his Zofia, feeling as light as a bird. Ah, those were good days.  But these were good days, too, and he still had his precious Zofia to look after and to care for him.

Mr. Petrovski made it across the street and was feeling  safe with only two more blocks to travel, when suddenly the buckled sidewalk flew up to trip his  shuffling feet.  BAM! He went down face-first, his cane flying one way and his glasses another. He was stunned, not sure for several heartbeats if he had anything broken. The fall knocked his breath right out of his lungs, and he couldn’t even think except for–“Ach, how humiliating!”

Some people did see him fall.  Three young women carrying go-cups from the coffee shop came running across the street, bending over Mr. P to see what kind of damage there had been.   Natalie hurried to put her cup down near the traffic light, then joined her companions at the old man’s side.

“Come on, you two, we have to turn him over and see if he’s conscious,” ordered Nat.

“Wait, shouldn’t we make sure he didn’t hurt his neck or something?  I mean, maybe it’s not safe to move him,” replied Tammy.

“Yes, you’re right. Let’s check his pulse, and maybe if he’s awake we can get him to talk.”  Natalie put her fingers on Mr. P’s neck, immediately finding a good strong pulse.  Groaning, Mr. P started to try to turn over.

“You can let me up,” he said clearly. “I may be down, but I’m not out!”

With a laugh of relief, the three young women worked to help Mr. P get to a sitting position. While they worked, a man on a small motorcylce climbed the curb, turned off his bike, and rushed over to the group around Mr. Petrovski.

“Here, ladies, can I help?  Let me get him under his arms, and then we can let him rest for a second before he gets back up on his feet.”

Natalie’s first reaction, when she saw the cyclist jump the curb, was intense distrust. He was dressed all in black leathers, from his boots to the jacket that was zipped to his chin.  His hands were protected in thick black gloves. He still wore his helmet and dark glasses, so very little of his face was visible.

“Ok, what is this?” thought Natalie to herself.  Is he going to try to mug this poor old guy?  Hit on one of us? Where’s my pepper spray?”

The cyclist, however, showed no signs of wanting to do anything but help. He knelt on the sidewalk behind Mr. P, who had managed to roll over on his back.  Carefully, the biker  put his hand under Mr. P’s arms and around his chest, hoisting him up against the black leather jacket.

“How’re you doing, Sir?  Are you okay?  Ready to try to stand up yet?”

While the biker was getting ready to help Mr. P stand up, Natalie got a good look at the old man’s face for the first time.

“Why, Mr. Petrovski!  I didn’t know it was you!  Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you seem to be all right!”

“I’m sorry, I’ve lost my glasses and I can’t see you very well.  Your voice sounds familiar, though. . . .Natalie?  Natalie, from the downstairs apartment?  Is that you?”

“Yes, Mr. P, it is.  I’m so glad I happened to be coming along behind you. These girls are my friends from work, Tammy and Jodi.  We saw you fall, and we’re here to help. This man holding you up is. . .um. . .”

“Mac,” said the biker.  He grinned, looking into Natalie’s pretty brown eyes. He liked brown eyes.  A lot. Natalie, a very pretty name, matched her very pretty face, he thought,  He like her smile, liked the compassion he saw in her eyes, liked her wavy dark hair that spilled over her forehead and around her face and neck. Liked the way she obviously cared about the old guy he was holding.  Actually, he liked this whole situation.

“So, Natalie, are you girls ready to help me get Mr. Petrovski to his feet?”

“Sure, I guess so,” replied Nat. She took Mr. P’s hand, squeezed it, and asked him if he were ready to get up.

“Yes, yes, yes!  I could have been up by now if you weren’t all hovering like a bunch of mother hens!  Let’s get on with it,” he answered, but with a twinkle in his eye.

“Okay, on three.  You ladies hold his arms,and one of you stand in front to brace him if he’s dizzy or something. Ready?  One, two, three!”

And Mr. P was back up on his feet.  He wobbled for just a moment, then regained his balance. “Did any of you see where my glasses went?  And my cane?  I sure hope my glasses aren’t broken!”  Then, remembering Zofia’s medication, he felt his pocket to see if the plastic bottle was intact.  With relief, he found everything in one piece.

“Mr. P,” said Mac, “I think you should let Natalie walk you back home.  Since you live in the same apartment building, that won’t be out of the way.  Right, Natalie?”

“Well, I really do have to get back to work. . .”

“It’s okay, Nat, we’ll tell the boss what happened.  He’ll be fine, and you’ll get there when you can make sure everything’s ok with your friend here.”  Tammy and Jodi turned to go back the way they had come.  Natalie stood there feeling stunned, looking at the biker’s dark glasses but not seeing anything that reassured her. Then, Mac did a very gentle thing. After helping Mr. P get his bent-not-broken glasses back on and handing him his cane, Mac took Natalie’s hand and placed it in the crook of Mr. P’s elbow, giving her hand a little squeeze.

“Look, I’ll make sure you two make it, all right?  We don’t want Mr. P to get dizzy or anything, so I’m just going to get back on my bike and I’ll go around the block a couple of times until I see that you’re at your apartment building. Okay? Good, now take it easy.  I’ll be close by.”

Shaking her head at how neatly Mac had maneuvered her into doing what he said, Natalie glanced up at Mr. P’s face.  He was smiling broadly, seeming to enjoy some private joke.

“Mr. P, what are you so happy about?  You just took a nasty fall!  You may have some skinned knees, you know, or you may have twisted your back!”

“Oh, my dear Natalie, don’t you worry about me.  I have a feeling you’ll have other matters to keep you occupied once Mac finds us safe at the apartment building.  He’s pretty sharp, your Mac.  Reminds me of when my dear Zofia and I first met. . . did I ever tell you that story?  No?  Well, I was riding my bicycle home from work one day. . . . .”

Friday Counseling Issues: Forgiveness, part 2

Matthew 6:12, 14-15. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.. . .For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

If you grew up in church and Sunday school, as I did, you probably memorized verse 12 along with the rest of what we have come to know as The Lord’s Prayer.  Again, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t get stopped on one tiny little word until some years later. 

The word is as.   We pray, “Forgive us as we forgive others.” We let the words role off our tongues so glibly that we don’t stop consider the importance of that one little word. 

So why am I making such a big deal out of such a small word?  Because of what it means, of course.  It means in the same way.  “Father, forgive me in the same way that I forgive those who have hurt me, sinned against me, slandered me, bullied me, stolen from me, lied about me.  Forgive me, Lord, the same way that I forgive them.”

Is that really what we want?  That God forgives us in the exact same way in which we have–or have not–forgiven others?  

I don’t remember when I first “got it” about this principle.  It’s been a very long time ago now, since I’ve reached this vast old age.  Sadly, I didn’t get it when I was very young.  I was an adult, rearing my own family, before the importance of this little word really sank into my heart. My experience had been that you don’t let anyone push you around, you fight back, you even the score.   Standing up to those who would hurt you may be necessary and right, but if you don’t forgive those who hurt you, then all you’ve done is fight. You haven’t settled the issue. And you’re carrying around a load of anger and bitterness that will affect every other part of your life. 

This is so important that Jesus went on to say that the only way to GET forgiveness from God is to GIVE forgiveness to others.   Those two verses, 14-15, have stirred up a firestorm of anger more than once as I work with people in my office who are struggling with deep hurts, abuse, misery, anger and depression. It is hard to realize that one’s relationship with the Father is tainted by unforgiveness; that indeed, if we do not forgive others, then He cannot  forgive us!

I urge you to ponder on these verses this week.  Next week, we’ll look at another important principle of forgiveness. 

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