Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are You Able to Forgive?

Wednesday South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a news conference where he confessed to being unfaithful to his wife and having an affair with a woman in Argentina.

Thursday morning long time ABC reporter Sam Donaldson appeared on Good Morning America and commented that “it is hard to forgive Republicans because they are so sanctimonious. They thump the Bible. They condemn everyone else, and when they- human- they don’t have much credit in the bank for forgiveness.”

Donaldson’s comment stuck with me because I had just had a conversation with someone about a third person that we both love. The “someone” feared that the third person had fallen into a sin and wondered how I felt about it.

Obviously the behavior of the other is out of my control and I’m a firm believer that worry does absolutely no good. So I verbally replied, “I want to hope for the best.” However, internally I thought, “I will forgive him.”

You may wonder how I could make such a decision in advance. I’ve already decided that I’ll forgive my wife and children whenever they sin against me. I’ve already decided to forgive my friends and colleagues when they sin against me.

Not that I want to be put to the test but I think I have a pretty large “forgiveness tank”. I have a significant capacity to forgive because I’ve been forgiven of so much by Jesus Christ.

Let me hasten to say that I’m not minimizing Governor Sanford’s sin nor picking on Donaldson’s political and moral commentary. I was simply reminded that it’s hard to forgive anyone when you’ve not been forgiven yourself.

As you read these words if someone comes to your mind that has wronged you and you feel stirred to forgive, I would take that as a “God thing” and ask for His grace to forgive.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Thank God for My Step-Father

I’m traveling these days without regular access to the Internet. Thus I’m writing a belated Father’s Day reflection. Click here to see my Mother’s Day reflection.

My parents divorced when I was about 4 years old. My father came from a pretty busted family situation and consequently was almost completely absent from my life. That’s another post for another day.

My Mother was left to raise my younger brother and me as a single woman in Memphis, Tennessee. As a secretary in a bank my Mother met a lot of people and as an attractive young woman received numerous requests for a date. On those occasions when she did date it often was short-lived. Usually my Mother having two children was a factor in the termination of those relationships.

Then along came George Dendrinos. He began dating my Mother when I was about 10 and my brother was about 8. George not only thought my Mother was great, he thought the same about my brother and me. He often made “dates” with all of us and enjoyed introducing us to new experiences.

George’s dating of my Mother was very costly. Not only was he growing to love all of us and interested in us becoming a family (an expensive prospect relationally and financially) but his family was totally against it. His family was strictly Greek Orthodox. Not only was it scandalous to marry a divorcee and have an instant family, my Mother was not Greek nor Orthodox.

George went against his family’s protests and proposed to my Mother and she said yes. However, a month before their scheduled wedding my younger brother suddenly died because of a cerebral hemorrhage. The trauma of loss was so great to my Mother that she fell apart. George sought to be a comfort and help the best he knew how but my Mother’s anguish was so great she kept striking out at him and pushing him away, at one point even giving his ring back to him. Eventually they reconciled and married a year later when I was 13.

Thus the drama only intensified. My Mother grieved my brother’s death for a long time and I began acting out, partly as an adolescent and partly in my own experience of grief. My Mother and I were both so “over the top” in our own ways that I am in awe that George stayed with us. I don’t know that I’ve ever met another man who would have stayed with us. I’ll always love and respect George for that.

George attended all my athletic and school involvements and cheered me on. He celebrated every accomplishment that ever came my way. When I graduated from high school George helped pay my way through college so that I graduated with no debt.

I later married and had two children of my own and my comprehension of George’s love and commitment was deepened so that I marvel all the more. When I came home to visit one day in 1989 and explained that I thought God was leading me to move to Seattle and start a new church, meaning that I would move myself and especially my parent’s grandchildren 2,000 miles away, I had nothing but support and encouragement.

After being in Seattle for about a year my Mother had the first of what would be several strokes. George has been an extraordinary care giver to my Mother in addition to working full time and making a living. Today he does it all; works, keeps house, washes clothes, shops for groceries, prepares meals, and tends to my mother with a hundred different details.

My wife has asked, “Would you be able to do that for me if we were in their place?” I honestly don’t know. I’ve never known anyone like George.

I thank God for the good gift George is to me, my family and my Mother.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mature Christians are Easily Edified

Today I overheard Chip Stam, a professor at Southern Seminary, quoted in the following way—

“Too often an accurate assessment of myself would reveal that I’m:
Easily annoyed
Easily irritated
Easily impatient
Easily hurt
Easily angered
Easily distracted
Easily arrogant

“But wouldn’t it be great if those who knew me best could honestly say, ‘It is so easy to edify him. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t need to be the best sermon ever preached or the most excellent song ever composed or the most powerful book ever written or the most theologically eloquent statement ever uttered. Just the simplest truth was enough to refresh his heart in Christ.’”

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What's Happened to Confession?

The Associated Press published a brief story about the diminished number of Catholics who practice the sacrament of penance by confessing one’s sins to a priest. The speculation is that parishioners have become so fuzzy about right and wrong and what constitutes sin that they no longer feel the need to confess, or some have substituted their time on the therapist’s couch for the confessional booth. You can read the story here.

We Protestants don’t practice confession to an ordained priest but we do believe the Scripture when it says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

We believe in the “priesthood of the believer”, that is, every believer has direct access to God and his or her prayers are heard as well as any ordained clergy. Therefore the practice of confession takes place between one believer and another in a trusted, covenantal relationship. I meet with trusted others every week and part of our time is spent confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another. I just did it again today.

However, my observation of Protestants is not unlike that of the Vatican study about Catholics. I think fewer people today practice confession and the repentance (change of living) that goes with confession. What’s happened to confession?

I do think our culture in general is more fuzzy about right and wrong. I also think that we’ve lost a great deal of “fear of the Lord” (i.e.: awe and respect) and therefore reduce God to a more doting grandparent who tends to look the other way and lets us get away with things. And, in our consumerist day, I think the majority of faith that is practiced is a kind of “what did I get out of church today” experience. God is not Someone to whom we yield and obey but rather a therapeutic helper to my challenges and problems.

The Vatican’s response to their findings is to publish a new handbook on confession to drum up enthusiasm among Catholics toward the sacrament. I don’t think a new handbook will help much.