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forgiveness Archives | Chaplain | JM Faith at Work

Don’t Drink the Poison

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I read today that the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were carried out by an Islamist group in revenge for the lethal attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which occurred just over a month ago. The Christchurch attack took 50 lives; the Sri Lanka attack claimed over 300. The perpetrators of the Sri Lanka attack are the numerical winners by an over six to one margin. Of course, there were no winners in this violent exchange, only losers. Among the losers are all civilized people.

You can google a lot of pithy quotes about revenge. “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself” and “Seeking revenge is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill your enemies” are two of my favorites. But turn to Jesus is you want true words of wisdom on the subject. Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Since both terrorist events took place half a world away, it gives us as Americans a chance to see with greater clarity the poisonous effects of revenge. The New Zealand attacker justified his attack based on a psychopathic desire to seek vengeance against Muslims for violence against Christians dating as far back as the 14th Century. Now the Sri Lankan Islamists have extracted their eye for an eye. Everybody loses.

Jesus’ words about hatred, revenge and love of our enemies are the most challenging of all his teachings. The twisted wires of our DNA program us to hurt back when somebody hurts us or someone we love. As children of God, however, we are not slaves to our evolutionary programming. The Gospel of love that Jesus lived and died for allows us to short-circuit the cycle of violence. And the merciful God known to the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world empowers them to do likewise.

But only if we DON’T DRINK THE POISON!

There’s No Law Against Being Nice

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By Pastor Jim Melvin

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

I used to think that this Bible verse, Galatians 5:22-23, was kind of silly.  It essentially says that there’s no law against being nice.  Shocking.  That’s technically true; but if you look around you, the way people behave often sends the message that being nice is for suckers.  Being nice is a sign of weakness and naivete.  If you are nice people are going to walk all over you.

            That is certainly the message we receive if we watch the news coverage of our political leaders – and that’s 90% of what the news covers.  Our representatives in Washington and in our state capital and the newscasters who interview them act as though they would be thrown in jail should a kind word pass their lips.  The business world is litigious; we’d rather sue someone than shake their hand.  Protestors would rather take to the streets to demand rather than to discuss.  Children learn that it is a cold, cruel, competitive world our there.  It doesn’t pay to be nice.

            Evidently the same thing was true 2,000 years ago when the Apostle Paul wrote these words to an early Christian church in Galatia, an area in modern day Turkey.  A lot of people in that congregation weren’t acting nice toward each other.  Simply put, we don’t play nice a lot of the time either.  Life can be difficult and competitive, so we must work hard at something as simple as being nice.

            My point is that we CAN be nice and in the long run we will be rewarded for being nice and the world will be a better place.  I would encourage us all to go over the list of qualities that Paul was talking about – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance – and think about how we can practice them in our families, at work, and in all of our relationships.  Maybe pick out one of these qualities per day to practice.  For example, today I’m going to be patient when people at work don’t live up to my expectations.  Or, today I’m going to focus on showing my kids I love them. 

            Just try being nice.  See how it feels.  There’s no law against it. 0

Tearing Down Walls

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from “Wall Fatigue.”  I’m frustrated and angry about our nation’s leaders being unable to engage in a civil discussion about whether or not we should build a border wall between us and Mexico.  I’m certainly tired of hearing about their antics every time I turn on the news.   But that’s not the kind of wall I want to talk about. 

I want to talk about the personal walls that many of us erect to separate ourselves from the people in our lives to whom we should feel closest – our friends, our families, our coworkers and our neighbors.  For many of us, these walls are evidence of our inability to talk openly, honestly, and civilly with one another about our fears and anxiety in these uncertain times.  When tough issues or potential conflicts arise, it’s easier and safer to erect a barrier.

Those of us in the construction industry make our living putting up walls.  That’s pretty much what construction is about.  We put up walls to protect ourselves against the Wisconsin winter.  We put up walls to protect our property and our stuff from thieves.  And I find it reasonable that we build walls to provide ourselves some degree of privacy, even interior walls to carve out our own private space in our homes. But, in the words Robert Frost in his poem “The Mending Wall,” “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall – that wants it down.”

People are made to be in relationships.  I would go as far as to say that we are less than fully human when we totally set ourselves apart from other people.  In the creation story in Genesis God says, “It’s not good that the man should be alone.”  Some of us are extroverts who never tire of talking up every stranger we meet at a party.  Some of us are introverts who would much rather sit home and watch TV or read a book.  Some of us come from big noisy families.  Some of us don’t.  But we all need other people in our lives.  Hermits aren’t natural. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall – that wants it down.

I challenge all of us to take stock of the walls we have built around us.  Some of them are necessary and protective.  But in other places we need to do some remodeling.  Look for the non-loadbearing walls in your life to which you should apply a well-aimed sledgehammer or wrecking bar.  In your family you may find you are separated from parents or brothers and sisters over issues or wrongs you don’t even remember anymore.  Maybe a misunderstanding or argument needs to be addressed between you and a friend or coworker.  Wherever you find a wall, ask why and if it needs to be there.  If it doesn’t – tear it down.

Let me suggest a few tools for you to use in your remodel, the sledgehammers and wrecking bars or personal walls.  The first one is compassion. Try to relate to the pain and suffering of the person on the other side of the wall.  Use your imagination to walk a mile in their shoes.  It is easy to assume that other people’s lives are hunky dory.  There’s that sister and brother-in-law that you resent because they’re always jetting off on a fancy vacation while you and your family struggle to pull off a long weekend at Noah’s Ark.  So, you rarely see each other.  You avoid unnecessary contact or conversation.  You only get together at weddings and funerals, and even the grudgingly.   Practicing a little compassion may show that they travel mainly to escape the lonely existence in sterile house they found themselves living in because they were too busy building their careers to start a family.  True, it was their choice, but a little compassion reveals that they have pain in their lives.

Another tool in your remodeling work chest is forgiveness.  We have all been wronged at one time or another, sometimes badly.  But holding on to grievances guarantees that they will be the gifts that keep on giving, pain.  I’ve heard hanging on to anger described as taking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.  To forgive means choosing to let go of the offense and giving up your right to justice.  Reestablishing a relationship is worth far more than winning an argument or getting your due.  Let forgiveness flow from you as though like a never-ending stream.  When Jesus asked was asked by Peter if he should forgive seven times, Jesus answers, “Not seven times; but seven times seventy.”  Some people require a lot of forgiving.

To compassion and forgiveness, add the most powerful tool of all, love.  You want to be in the same room with the people you love.  And love is an act that is always there for you to choose.  Love, which involves compassion and forgiveness, puts another person’s welfare ahead of our own.  Put that way it might seem like love is for suckers.  It isn’t.  St. Francis stated it best, “It is in giving that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Loving is its own reward because it takes walls down like a wrecking ball.

The great symbolic act of the end of the Cold War occurred when Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and shouted, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”  The Soviet leader listened.  With the wall torn down, Berlin came back to life after 27 years of painful division.  Tear down your walls; you don’ know what new life and new joy is waiting on the other side.

Let me circle back to that border wall.  For some reason which I cannot fully explain, the political conflicts in America are affecting our personal relationships.  Toxic politics are causing a building boom in personal walls.  I know of many instances where people have become alienated from friends and families over party affiliations and political agendas.  Our personal walls are going up in response to a seemingly insurmountable national and international issue.  Is it naïve to consider that tearing down our personal walls may be a first and necessary step in finding a political solution to this and other issues?  It’s worth considering.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall – that wants it torn down.”

Amen to that.

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Dump Your Guilt and Your Grudges

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I have a friend who trained to hike the Grand Canyon by wearing a backpack filled with 40 pounds of bricks for almost a month.  Yes, he looked like he was nuts schlepping that thing around while he was mowing the lawn. He survived the backpacking trip, so I guess it worked.  Well, to each his own.

All of us lug burdens around with us even when we aren’t training for anything.  Two of our most common burdens are Guilt and Grudges.  We carry guilt for bad things we have done to other or for ways that we have let others down.  We carry grudges for bad things others have done to us or for ways that they have let us down.  Unlike my friend who was strengthened by his backpack full of bricks, guilt and grudges just slow us down and eventually wear us down.

The thing is, we carry these burdens unnecessarily and often unknowingly.  But we can choose to dump them.  We rid ourselves of both through forgiveness.  As far as guilt goes, there is nothing that you have done that cannot be forgiven.  As for grudges, there is nothing that has been done to us that we cannot forgive.  Forgiveness is not easy; but it is always possible.

We can be forgiven.

We can dump the guilt.  There is nothing that we have done that cannot be forgiven.  There may be times when we have wronged someone who is unwilling to forgive us.  Once we have sincerely asked for forgiveness and in some cases performed healing act, the choice to forgive lies with the person we have harmed.  In that case, at least in the short term, we need to turn to God for the forgiveness that will relieve our guilt.  There are many, many references to God’s infinite desire to forgive in the Bible, but my go to verse is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Getting rid of guilt is just a prayer away.

We can forgive.

We can dump our grudges.  There is nothing that has been done to us that we cannot forgive.  Let’s be honest, sometimes if feels good to wallow in self-righteousness, holding on to the sense of being wrong.  Grudges give us a sense of power over the person who hurt us.  But they don’t.  Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.  When we hold on to a grudge, the person who hurt us still holds power over us.  Once we have granted forgiveness, we can choose whether or not we want to continue in that relationship.  Turning to the Bible once again, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Are you feeling weighed down?  Just remember, you are forgiven, and you can forgive.  Lighten your load.  Dump the guilt AND the grudges.  You’ll feel better.