Forgiveness and Marshmallows

Forgiveness of others is not a feeling, it's a choice. Sometimes I feel as a church we spend so much time talking about the miracle of how God forgave us of every sin in our life that we think we can just apply the same logic to forgiving other people.

False. We are not God and forgiving others is one of the hardest things to do. Because we are not God.

Yesterday I spoke in a sunday school class about forgiveness. Even as a I shared my own story I was reminded forgiving others is not about waiting around for the gooey, mushy, marshmallow feeling inside. It is about choosing to forgive the other person even when you don't feel like it. Actually, especially when you don't feel like it. God can easily forgive, that is part of God's nature ("love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs" - 1 Corinthians 13:5). God can forgive the worst of our sins the moment we ask. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). But we cannot purify anyone (even ourselves) from all unrighteousness.

But let's be real here, we are not God. We as humans hold grudges as easily as we hold pencils. We remember the boy in the 5th grade who constantly reached inside our desks and stole our markers, we remember the hurtful name callings, the times we were left at the bus stop, our parent's divorce. We remember the big and small hurts in life and hold so tightly to them.

Forgiveness has to be a choice, because we are not actually strong enough to do it on our own. Look at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In this story a servant, we'll call him Frank, owed a giant debt (one million dollars) to his master. To pay the debt, the Frank's family would be sold. But the servant pleaded for mercy and the master took pity on him, forgave the debt, and let him go. But Frank did not understand his forgiveness. He merely thought that it was an extension of his loan so he then sought out one of his fellow servants, let's call him Steve, who owed him a small debt (one hundred dollars). He demanded his Steve pay him back everything he owed. Steve pleaded for mercy but Frank refused and had Abe tossed in prison until he could repay him. The master is furious at Frank for he had been forgiven much but was unwilling to forgive so little a debt.

God perhaps feels this way. God does not want us to go around harboring bitterness and resentment towards those who have wronged us because God does not treat us this way. God can forgive our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103). We are supposed to be Christ-like then we need to forgive those, whether or not we we feel in the mood to do so. Because, honestly, we are never going to be in the mood to forgive someone. If you are waiting until you have a gooey, mushy, marshmallow feeling of you can now be ok to be around the person who wronged you, you are going to be unforgiving for a long, long time. God wants us to do it the other way. We forgive first and then the gooey, mushy, marshmallow feeling will come afterwards. It may be a while, but eventually the pain will subside.

Forgiveness is not about saying their actions are ok, because they are not. But forgiveness is choosing not to hold it against them any more. Forgiveness is not about being friends with every person ever, that would be stupid. Forgiving others doesn't mean you can't distance yourself from people who are not good to be around (see Donald Miller's blog for more). But forgiveness is not letting yourself be eaten up by the sins of others against you. Because let's face it, being unforgiving is only hurting you, not them. Forgiveness then becomes when you think of the hurt, sin, brokenness, or stolen marker (because let's face it - you will think of it again), you don't bring it up with person again because you have forgiven them. You take it up with God and plead for his mercy again because God can handle it. And God is not about the gooey, mushy, marshmallow feelings - he is about reconciliation and restoration and that is some awesome stuff.


Five Assurances

Our student leadership team for Junior High ministries at Lake Ave. Church had to memorize these five assurances of God:

The Assurance of Salvation
"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:11-12)

The Assurance of Victory 
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The Assurance of Forgiveness
"If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

The Assurance of Guidance
"Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The Assurance of Answered Prayer
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24)


Bears, Bicycles, and Jesus

I went to see Blue Like Jazz at a screening in LA and was amazing by the acting, the filming, and the direction. I think was more excited to see this than The Hunger Games movie.

Let me begin by saying that I don't traditionally like Christian movies. I find they are often too cheesy (and not the good kind that would come on a pizza) for my taste. They either try too hard to be "Christian" and put unnecessary Christian dialogue or action in the movie or too hard to appeal to a secular audience and have lost all Christian themes/morals in the movie. I'm not saying that Christian movies are awful and I know many people who like them. But they are the equivalent of Hallmark or Nora Roberts movies - good for a quick cry and then easily forgettable.

What is different about Blue Like Jazz is the hoensty. Donald Miller knows how to tell good stories. I think that is why I like him as an author is he tells amazing stories. His books don't feel like regular Christian books but rather like you are in a coffee shop with him and he is telling you his life story. The movie has the same feel, like you are sitting down with 20 year old Don Miller and he is telling you about his first year at Reed College in Portland and how Jesus met him through his pot smoking, beer drinking, and lesbian classmates.

The characters in this movie are real, partly because they are all based on real people, but also the actors portray them exceptionally well. The movie allows you to question why you "do" religion but also brings you back to the essential point of the power and necessity of Jesus. I like that the movie itself never questions who Jesus is but rather you are watching Don question him. It allowed me to go there with Don (if I needed to) or to watch along, emphasizing with him. It allowed me to evaluate my own life - where had Jesus met in the past and where did I need him to meet me again.

It was a beautiful story and I cannot wait to see it again.


The Hunger Games

Unless you've been living underneath a rock, you've heard of Suzanne Collins's book, The Hunger Games. Currently my Jr. High small group girls are obsessed with it. I have to say, to start out with, that I really love these books since I first read The Hunger Games almost a year ago. I am excited to see it come to a movie but more than that, I look forward to the discussions that can come from this book. Questions about oppression, injustice, and survival in our own world.

While I am excited to see my small group girls so engaged in a book rather than some reality TV show MTV has put out (not that I haven't watched a few of those myself) I am not sure they totally understand the depth of the book. Many of them are much more invested in the romance, making camps of Team Gale or Team Peeta. But honestly, those books are not about the romance. According to Collins's herself the books themes are much deeper than romance. The book "tackles issues such as severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the affects of war among others." The books itself are not about a girl choosing between two guys (as you may see in Twilight) and isn't the battle of good vs. evil (for example as in, say, Harry Potter) but about how do we wrestle with injustice in our own world? Do we sit back and pretend it doesn't happen like they do in the capital? Do we just try to survive on our wits and knowledge like Katniss and Gale in the first book or do we step out and fight against oppression?

Collins hopes that readers walk away from the books asking how "elements of the book might be relevant in their own lives. And, if they're disturbing, what they might do about them." I appreciate The Hunger Games books, not because they are full of action, violence, or romance but because they allow us to see injustice and oppression in an imaginary world and that should lead us to reflect where do we see those things in society. I think as Christians we should take advantage of this extremely popular book as a transition into asking our churches and fellowships where do we see injustice and what can be done about it? 


Up All Night

Volunteering with Jr. High Ministries has provided many a crazy opportunitiy. But none compare to staying up all night, with a ton of kids, bouncing on trampolines, falling at roller skating rinks, nerf wars, hip-hop rappers, 80's outfits, and delusions.

I think I am going to die. Not literally, but close to it. My body aches from all the jumping and falling. My head hurts from no sleep. I'm too old for this stuff.

I kind of feel like the tv show, Up All Night, staring Christina Applegate and Will Arnet. Except minus the baby part.

And that is also why I do not want babies any time soon. I need my sleep! 


A Second Chance

Fresno has turned into my home away from home. I never would have thought that after going to FUI (you know, that internship thingy I discuss a lot. Apparently it was important in my life. I will you look back at old blog posts for references and cool links). And one of the coolest things about being back in Fresno this time around was that I got to see a second chance for the Iron Bird Cafe.

The Coconut Mocha from Iron Bird Cafe

The place closed down shortly after I left Fresno for my second summer at FUI. It was heartbreaking to many of the people who frequented the establishment and loved their coffee. And they were thus overjoyed by it's return. The current owner is Amy Liao who owns Teazer World Market tea shops in Fresno (which I also LOVE). When I was in their last, I got to meet Amy and in her words "We've got to focus on making the good coffee and good food." Then she'll worry about the publicity.

I love this place because I feel like it is a metaphor for the city of Fresno. The city is virtually split into 2 parts - North Fresno is the rich area with the large shopping centers and tourist attractions. Downtown Fresno is full of poverty, homelessness, brokenness, and it easily forgotten about. People drive on the 99, past Fulton mall, past downtown, to get straight into Riverpark and Clovis and beyond. The downtown was left in the wake of their dust.

Years ago, the city learned that they were in the city with the highest concentrated poverty rate (people in a designated area living below the poverty line - they have the most designated areas). Since then people have worked to give their resources, time, and even Christian men and women have moved into the neighborhood to invest their own lives, money, and time into the city. Like IronBird, the city was given a second chance, was given hope to be renewed.

"Shout for joy, you heavens' rejoice, you earth; burst into song you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.' Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; you walls are ever before me." - Isaiah 49:13-16

Like Zion, Fresno will not be forsaken or forgotten by the Lord. During times of trouble, I feel like Zion and Fresno, I feel like God has left me and forgotten about me. But this verse reminds me, reminds the cities, that the Lord can no more forget, can no more walk away than a mother could possibly walk away from their nursing baby. Even in times of trouble, the Lord has not forsaken us but calls us to rejoice. Gives us hope and a second chance.