I Really Forgive You

Obviously, I’m still on vacation. And it’s been restful, for sure. Apart from a few excursions, the Thoma family’s goal has been just to be together. Although, my early-morning alone time has produced (as it always does) daily posts for Angelsportion.com. It’s been good to revisit the humorist hiding in my keyboard. Of course, knowing we’d be gathering with God’s people at Zion in Winter Garden this morning, I was thinking of you and hoping all was well back home among God’s faithful people at Our Savior.

You should know that having taken a gamble and visited with my email this morning, I was nudged by a thought that may be of some value to some of you, while for others, it may only be worth putting into your pocket for later. It has to do with forgiveness.

I’ve always thought that forgiveness costs the offended so much more than the offender, and by this, it will forever be an incredibly imbalanced exchange. Indeed, the one who bears the scars of attack must also be the one to rise from the pain to give a comforting word to a penitent enemy who, at the victim’s expense, may even have made personal gains by his dark deeds. But you must know that while we are promised plenty of challenging experiences in life, the sacred exchange of forgiveness between the offended and the offender is one of the few that truly tests the courage of both involved.

One must be brave enough to admit the behavior and its shame. The other must be courageous enough to let it pass by while facing off with the innate desire for retribution, which is to wrestle with one of the darkest parts of the human condition.

These being true, I’ll go further and say I’m not one to agree with those who’d wander the perimeter of this exchange repeating what pop-psychology teaches—which is that for peace of mind, the offended must come to terms with an unrepentant enemy by forgiving them in one’s heart.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s a teaching of Christianity.

Real forgiveness does not move from one sphere to the other without the avenue of repentance. Even as it meets with our Lord’s work on the cross, He paid the full price that accomplishes absolute forgiveness for all of Mankind’s past, present, and future atrocities. Forgiveness is there. It is available. And yet, no one receives even an atom-sized drop of heaven’s storehouses of forgiveness apart from faith. Faith is born of the Gospel, and as it is birthed, its bearer’s eyes are opened to the inescapable dreadfulness of his sinful condition. From there, trust in the sacrifice of Christ as the only rescuer is engaged. The ultimate One offended—God—works this humble faith in the offender, and in that moment, the floodgates of forgiveness are opened, and the sinner is drowned in the mercies of His divine love.

An unrepentant offender remains divided from forgiveness. Apart from forgiveness, the truth is that nothing is reconciled and the two live in completely different spheres leading to vastly different consequences.

I know some might contend that texts like Luke 7:47 and Matthew 6:14-15 are clear cut examples of the Lord instructing us to forgive everyone no matter the circumstances. With regard to Luke 7, I’d argue that we ought to pay closer attention to the love the Lord describes in that particular verse before leaning on such a loose interpretation. With regard to Matthew 6, I’d suggest an important text that comes before it: Matthew 5:43-48. It’s there Jesus describes with precision how we are to relate to devoted enemies and persecutors. The word for forgiveness isn’t used, but rather the Lord calls for us to show them genuine love and to pray for them. Christ is pressing His Christians to deeds of kindness that will serve as markers leading others to the one true merciful God awaiting the lost with open arms. By the way, you may recall He already began describing this at the beginning of the sermon in Matthew 5:16. In a way, He’ll describe the glory of the whole thing later on in Luke’s Gospel when He tells the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-24).

And so, boiling all of this down to relationships in general…

Did your husband cheat on you? Has he recognized and admitted to his wrongdoing and returned to seek your forgiveness? No? Then I’m not so sure you can just declare him forgiven and move on. From a Christian perspective, how would that lead him to Christ? What would that teach the children?

Did someone tell a dreadful lie about you, one that has spread like wildfire and devastated your reputation among others you once considered friends? Again, has this person come clean with you, doing what she can to amend and repair the damage? No? Again, I’m not so sure you can blanketly offer her forgiveness. How would that display for her the deeper value of forgiveness to be had from God?

I know all of this may sound somewhat controversial, especially as it seems to leave one person in the relationship to suffer. But that’s not it at all. None of this is to say you must move on from such challenging circumstances completely devoid of inner peace. God has given a way for going forward. For one, He has promised to comfort and uphold you in times of trouble (Deuteronomy 31:8; Job 5:11; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 46:1; Matthew 5:4; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Even better, He has already drawn you to Himself by the forgiveness He has bestowed in your life, and by this, you can go from day to day with the knowledge that you are not at war with the One who matters most, but rather you exist at peace with Him (Romans 5:1-15). It’s there you can know that no matter the offending behavior of other human beings in this awful world, be it big or small, as much as it depends on you, you can speak and act in ways that have the potential for leading your persecutors toward genuine peace with God (Romans 12:18).

With that, I pray the Lord’s blessings for you this morning, namely that you’ll be richly upheld in penitent faith by His wonderfully abundant grace given through Word and Sacrament in holy worship.

There’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet

I had an interesting thought that came to me during the Elders meeting yesterday morning. It happened while leading the group through a portion of Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Essentially, I was reminded of something that happened a few weeks back while watching my daughter, Evelyn, during her horseback riding lessons.

At one point during her lesson, I could tell just by looking at her that her blood sugar was getting low, and so as she lapped the place where I was observing, I asked her how she was feeling. She confirmed that she was a bit tired and feeling a little woozy. Of course, the last thing you want to be doing with low blood sugar is riding a horse, and so I asked her to come back around to me so I could give her a juice bottle. I knew after a few big gulps, she’d start to feel better and be able to keep going. Besides, she wanted to keep riding. It bothers her when her Type 1 diabetes gets in the way of her abilities to just be a normal kid. With that, she turned her steed (whose name is Moe) in a circle and trotted up beside the platform where I was sitting. I gave her the juice bottle. She took a few big gulps, gave it back to me, and then gave Moe the cue to proceed.

Strangely, Moe was slow to move.

When he finally did—and I know this is going to sound weird—he seemed to be acting judiciously, as if he knew Evelyn needed him to be a little more careful with her. The more I watched, the more I noticed his apparent awareness. For example, when Evelyn gives him the cue for cantering, which is a relatively swifter pace of travel somewhere between and trot and a gallop, usually Moe hops right into it. But not this time. Evelyn gave the cue and Moe was slower to engage, taking a few extra paces to transition into it rather than taking off abruptly.

Again, the more I watched, the more I noticed these things. He didn’t take the turns as roughly as before. He added a few extra paces to his stops.

Intrigued, I grabbed my phone and did a search online to see what I could find out about the intellectual abilities of horses. I wanted to know whether or not they actually had the capacity for caring all that much about the welfare of the rider. I was surprised to learn that the so-called science is up in the air on the subject. For every article that said horses form emotional bonds with their riders or caregivers, another would frame their behavior as more animalistic and instinctual. In other words, they could be trained to act in ways that make it look like they care.

I can’t say for sure. Although, I’d say for my part, I believe the former analysis rather than the latter. I say this not only because of what I observed over the course of Evelyn’s thirty-minute lesson, but because of one article that suggested horses actually do have the cognitive ability for communicating with humans. Essentially, a study was performed proving horses are more than capable of telling their trainers when they are too hot or too cold. The horses in the study, if they were too hot, they would touch their noses to a certain placard indicating they didn’t want to wear a blanket. If they were cold, they’d do the same thing with a different placard, indicating they wanted a blanket. In my mind, if horses can think certain things through and ultimately tell us what they want, then I think it’s likely they can take in what we’re communicating and reply through deliberate action. Just watching Moe with Evelyn, I think he knew something wasn’t quite right with her, and he was watching out for her. He was one way, and then when she changed, he changed, and not in a mindless way, but in a measured way.

As you might expect, this sent me into the realm of theology.

I don’t know who said it, but there is the quote which goes something like, “Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” In other words, even a horse knows better than to expect goodness in people, let alone count on them for much anything at all. A jesting proverb, and yet a truthful one acknowledging the innate sinfulness of Man. Just by watching Moe with my daughter, I couldn’t help but recall past and present interactions with certain people who’ve proven themselves far less capable of the simple kindnesses being shown even by this horse. Admittedly, however, in that same moment I felt shame nudging me for being just as capable of reckless unkindness. There’ve been times when I was annoyed and short-tempered. There have been times when someone else’s need was of little consequence to me and I cantered along to other things unconcerned for their wellbeing.

But here was Moe, a creature designed and given by God, showing me a better way.

I don’t know what it is about moments like this, but when I experience them, I almost always discover some sort of lesson ready and waiting in the motion-filled details. And each one usually involves being neck-deep in silent confession with my Lord, which, I’d say, is a good thing. Through the combined lens of repentance and faith, I’m forever being reminded of just how undeserving I am of every ounce of concern God gives. And yet, He continues to give it (1 John 1:8-9). He doesn’t want me to fall. He wants to carry me through to the end of my days securely in His care. Thankful for His grace, I become more aware of the opportunities faith reveals for a humble approach in my dealings with others as I wrestle to put aside the “self” in order to show Christ-like care to others—even those I’d consider to be my enemies.

To come at it from another angle, without genuine Christian humility, it’s very possible that the wrongs we exact in the lives of others, in comparison to the wrongs they measure against us, will never be weighed by the same scales. When this is true, nothing ever becomes reconcilable. Our deeds will always be justified and theirs will always be condemnable. You know, I should probably just go ahead and be blunt in this regard: If you’re someone who rarely sees the guilt of his or her own sin in any given situation, but rather is forever innocent, always being on the receiving end of the offensive actions of others, I know a horse you should meet. His name is Moe, and I’d be glad to arrange an introduction.

Honorable Men

Resolutions for personal betterment are the topic of discussion at this moment just past the New Year’s turning point. At least for some. Others think the idea of making resolutions is ridiculous.

I don’t. As Christians, training for spiritual righteousness is a commendable thing (2 Timothy 3:16). Saint Paul said that. He also commended us to reaching higher in our Godly knowledge and ways when he wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

In any of the discussions I’ve had so far on the matter with folks who are actually attempting New Year’s resolutions, most have itemized things they’d like to change—such as their weight or eating habits. Others have shared with me personality characteristics they’d prefer to see barred at the exit door of 2019.

On a personal note, last year I focused on rebuilding relationships I’ve seen crumble. For the most part, I’ve been working pretty steadily at it. Some have improved. Others, I’ll admit, are proving much harder—nearly impossible—to mend. Still, I intend to keep at it. And besides, I knew I’d win some and lose some. But the upside is that maintaining the desire to be someone who works toward such things isn’t as hard as it was when I first started. The ways I’ve been going about it have become more or less habitual—which is what you want when you’re trying to make deeper, personal changes. You want whatever you’re trying to change to become a near thoughtless part of who you are as a person. It takes time to craft and become this, but eventually, it does happen.

By God’s promised grace, it’s happening in various ways in my life, and I’m glad for it. It makes me wonder why anyone would knock such efforts. Who knows? Maybe there’s a fear of darker discoveries when we take an honest inventory of ourselves.

Again, who knows? Either way, now it’s on to other improvements, and so I’ve made other resolutions. I’ll share one with you that I shared with the men in the Bible study last night at my house. I’d sort of thought it through on the way home from worship yesterday.

A few weeks back, right after the Divine Service, I took a moment to encourage folks to attend the upcoming Marriage Seminar on January 11. To introduce it, I teed up a story of having never seen the movie “Aladdin.” I explained that I’d finally sat down to watch it with my daughters, and when I arrived at a particular scene in which Jazmine was throwing a bit of a tantrum about not wanting to be considered a “prize to be won,” my lungs stole nearly all of the room’s oxygen in a surprised gasp.

I’ve been telling my daughters for years that, yes, indeed, they are prizes to be won!

When it comes to relationships with young suitors, my girls are to know and remember the Word of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 6:20. It’s there they will hear, “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” They are to know that when it comes to dating, as Christian girls, they’re worthy of the best characteristics in men. My girls are to know that everything and all that they are is of incredible value. They are priceless prizes to be sought out and won by the best of the best. This isn’t snobbery, but rather a teaching from the right perspective—the Christian perspective—that they’ve already seen this demonstrated by the One who loves them perfectly: Jesus Christ. My daughters were worth every drop of blood in the Lord’s veins, and as Saint Paul shares in Ephesians 5:22-33, they ought never to settle for any man who is unable to behold them against the backdrop of the mysteriously beautiful gift of God called Marriage.

In the end, I think I know why the character Jazmine said what she did. She was being treated like currency. But it doesn’t change the fact that I will continue to tell my daughters they are prizes to be won, and with that, I’m hoping for them to one day be joined in holy marriage to Godly and honorable husbands. In this is found the seed of one of my resolutions for 2020.

What can I do to make sure they find these types of men?

In 2020, as the pastor of a church and school, I will be doing whatever I can—actively, intentionally—to both model and promote honorability among the boys and men of this organization. Of course, I’m already quite mindful of such things in my day to day activities. It’s part of who I am already. But now I will be acting outwardly on this sense with more deliberateness. I will be looking for and seizing each opportunity to instill in the young men a craving for filling the gaps in male respectability in our society. We need these men to be the kinds of husbands and fathers who understand they can’t love their wives and children as God would have them if they love themselves more.

For example, in a basic sense, a man offers first passage through a doorway to others, namely to women and children. This is foundational to the ways of common courtesy alive in many of us. And yet, I say this having read a short news article about a man whose little one died in a house fire because he chose to save his video gaming system first.

This is where we are.

Another example…

A man is never to impose himself crassly upon anyone, being in a person’s face and loud. And yet a man will raise his voice above the fray if necessary. He is never so soft as to shrink from doing what’s right, no matter the boisterousness of the opponents who surround him. I say this as I observe our culture doing all it can to effeminize men, shaping them to be sheepishly ambivalent, discouraging them from confronting falsehood or bad behavior, crafting them into men who’d rather be friends with their children than steer them into verity, men who’ve become less likely to speak up and act when a sturdy viscera for truth is needed in the world around them.

An honorable man gives his word and is deeply harmed if he discovers himself breaking it. An honorable man puts his fiber into fighting for what’s good, for what’s important. He doesn’t accept what the world proffers as inevitable, but rather relies on what God establishes and has marked as virtuous. I offer these descriptions among an ocean of failing marriages drowning in shattered promises given by straying men who gave up long before lifting a finger to grapple through to better days with the women God gave them for a sacred unity.

In past interviews with new families desiring to enroll their children here in our school, when asked why they want their children to attend Our Savior, it isn’t uncommon for some parents to say, “Because we want them to be good people, to be moral people.” Usually I would respond with a brief explanation of our Gospel foundation, how we’re not necessarily a morality-factory—although morality is a deliberate byproduct—but rather a place that begins and ends with the Gospel as the source for all our efforts. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel that a desire to live good and decent lives according to God’s holy Law is born. With this 2020 resolution in mind, from now on I might say a little differently, “Situated firmly in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus—which is the primary reason we exist—the fruits of morality will be taught and expected. For the girls, virtue will be heralded. For the boys, one pathway toward many of these expectations will be by way of teaching them what it means to be honorable.”

Thinking out loud with the men in the Bible study last night, I told them I believe a moral man is far different than an honorable one. I think both are capable of sinful behavior, but I get the sense from God’s Word that an honorable man is one who not only knows the rules, but plays by them. In other words, when he falls short, he’s more inclined to regret what he’s done and work to change it. That’s a face of honor. That’s humility. That looks and sounds an awful lot like the basic wisdom of faith—like humble repentance and trust in Jesus that leads to an amending of the sinful life. In fact, God did say in Proverbs 18:12 that humility strides before honor. And Proverbs 29:23 says a humble spirit will obtain honor.

So, anyway, that’s one of my resolutions for 2020. I hope I can achieve something by it. I know that however impactful the effort is, it will be even more fruitful if upheld and practiced by the parents at home. Truly, it’s there that boys are groomed for manhood—which means the first of my efforts will always be the continuation of such things among my own sons, Joshua and Harrison.