Most of us see New Years Day as a fresh start. Many (or most) of us hope and pray that the New Year will be better. We make steadfast resolutions of how we are going to do better next year. The reality is that January 1st is just another day. We could just as easily resolve on May 18th or August 3rd that we are going to change how we live. But there is something psychologically powerful about the New Year. January is named after the Roman god Janus. He was unique because he had two faces…one to look into the past and one to look into the future. Today Janus the two faced would be a very successful politician.
On this January 1st I am sure many of you have made resolutions for the New Year. The most cited resolutions generally include things like exercising more, saving more money, getting out of debt, quitting smoking and reading the Bible all the way through without getting bogged down in Leviticus and skipping directly to the Psalms. But the most popular resolution year after year is…losing weight. There are a dizzying array of diets and hundreds of weight loss books. It is overwhelming to try and decide which diet to read or which plan to try.
Comedian Rita Rudner notes that "inside many of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but she can be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake". A forgotten Beatitude is "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for they are sticking to their diet". (Note to the increasingly prevalent theological hall monitors: That is humor. I know that quote is not a biblical truth)
So today I thought I would be doing a real service if I gave you God's Guaranteed Weight Loss Plan to take into 2011. This weight loss plan will make you healthier, reduce stress, give you more joy and cause you to grow in your relationship with the Lord. Get out your pencils and paper and I will outline God's Guaranteed Weight Loss Plan. By following this no subscription, no monthly dues plan you can lose the weight of bitterness and anger caused from lack of forgiveness. If you are carrying around an unforgiving spirit it is weighing you down spiritually and emotionally. Researchers are discovering the physical effects of holding bitterness and grudges. An article in USA Today tantalizingly titled "Psychologists Now Know What Makes Us Happy" reported the findings of University of Michigan professor Christopher Peterson. (For this Ohio State Buckeye fan to agree with a Michigan prof shows the potential of grace in our lives.) Peterson stated that forgiveness is the behavior most strongly linked to happiness. Regular readers of the New Testament will not be surprised. The professor correctly noted, "It's the queen of all virtues, and probably the hardest to come by."
We have found that statement to be true in the church. Christians have not always been noticibly better than the general populace on the forgiveness front.
Forgiveness may be the most unnatural thing that the Lord asks us to do. Forgiveness flies in the face of all the inborn sense of justice that we possess. A man once commented to theologian John Wesley, "I never forgive." Wesley responded, "Then, sir, I hope that you never sin."
The Gospel of Mark seems to set the forgiveness bar at an impossible height to clear.
"Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it's personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I'm sorry, I won't do it again,' forgive him." (The Message)
Really now. Maybe I could manage once or twice, but doesn't continually forgiving make me a fool? Maybe the writer misspoke there a little bit. Isn't it interesting how we will subconsciously wrestle with God about what He really meant? The text seems pretty clear in all of the translations. There are no exceptions. How about this little challenge.
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, The Message)
The "as quickly" part is hard enough. The "as thoroughly" clause is nigh to impossible.
Do you see any way around the obvious command to forgive? Me either. And that causes me a bit of concern. Just like the average Christian, I want all of the benefits of forgiveness without that annoying requirement that I actually have to forgive others. But the Bible is very clear about my responsibility to forgive. Forgiveness is a constant and, quite frankly, irritating theme of the New Testament. There do not appear to be any loopholes in these verses. I don't think we have a super-species of unforgivable sins that have mutated since the days of Jesus that require a special dispensation. I would imagine that Enoch at the tent making shop was just a big as jerk as Bob in accounting.
Bottom line: We are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness may well be the missing ingredient to true revival in the church. Clearly our lack of forgiveness is a major impediment to growth. I believe that we attract people to Christ when we behave in a way that is supernatural. I'm not talking about performing miraculous healings or speaking in tongues. I'm talking about the supernatural behaviors radio host Steve Brown referred to when he said this: "We can claim to have supernatural love, but it's only supernatural when one would expect hatred instead. We can claim to be forgiving, but forgiveness is supernatural only when there is no earthly reason for one to be forgiving. Compassion is supernatural when the smart thing to do is look out for number one. Joy is supernatural when circumstances don't warrant it."
What would be the result in our communities if we demonstrated the supernatural aspects of Christ living through us outlined above? I suspect the unchurched would be clamoring to "get what we got." Forgiveness may be the singular act that convinces an unbelieving world that Christians really can be different. (Different good, not different weird.)
I have spent a lot of unhappy moments outside of fellowship with my Lord because I did not want to forgive someone who hurt me. I am grieved to think of how I have stubbornly refused to forgive others for real and/or perceived slights over the years. I can imagine Jesus looking at me with sadness (not condemnation) because I have not fully comprehended the magnitude of the debt that has been erased from my account because of Him. I picture His sadness that I have shortchanged my ability to possess joy and peace. Right there in front of my spiritual nose and I chose to hold onto bitterness. Am I guilty of beating myself up? No. I think I am just being honest about the depth of my indebtedness to Christ. I hope I never lose sight of the gift of forgiveness. If I cannot forgive I have forgotten how much I have been forgiven. I am trusting God to help me shed all of that unwanted weight of bitterness and unforgiveness this year. More ideas to follow in the days ahead.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.