Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Lesson in Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

The most important lesson I ever received in the concept of Christian forgiveness wasn’t in Sunday School. It was in a stable. And, I'm not talking about a metaphor for something real spiritual here. I'm talking about a real stable. I met Emile Avery about 30 years ago when I ran a horse stable in the Griffith Park area. No one called him Emile, not even his wife; he was just Avery. He ran the stable next to mine and we both trained horses and taught people how to ride. Avery was 75 years old, tough as nails and still rode every day. He was a grizzled old cowboy who had been a wrangler, western actor and stunt man in hundreds of the 1960's TV westerns and old movie westerns. 

And then one night he committed the unforgivable sin. I had a big thoroughbred which was parked in the corral right next to his house. The high-strung thoroughbred had gotten nervous that night and was making noise so Avery climbed over the fence and tied up my horse. That morning, as I read the note that Avery had left telling me why he had tied it up, I almost choked on my chew I was so mad. I was enraged. Furious. The cowboy code was that you never messed with another man's wife and you never messed with another man's horse (and I'm not sure those were necessarily in that order). 

I was a little different back in my cowboy days.  Between my boots and the top of my hat there was about 6'6" of tobacco chewing, cussin meanness. Ten gallon hat, blood-stained chaps from vet'en horses, manure crusted boots, shiny silver spurs. I was a believer but wasn't what you'd call “walking with the Lord” at that time in my life. 

I could hear some rattling around in his barn and I hollered, “Avery, get over here, you blankity old blank.” He came over to the fence and I cussed him out something fierce. I had every right to do so. It’s dangerous to tie up a horse like that and leave it. And when a horse is going wild in its stall, the last thing you would want to do is to just tie him up and leave him alone because he could panic, fall and asphyxiate himself. Avery knew I was right and said he was sorry, but there was no way I was going to let him off the hook and forgive him. I walked away with my parting words something about breaking his scrawny old neck if I ever saw him in my barn again. 

“Hey John...” he called. “Come here and wiggle my little finger.” I turned and saw he was standing right at the fence. His property was about three feet lower than mine and he was a short guy too. So his head was at about the height of my knees and he was reaching up and poking his old bony little finger through the chain link fence. I bellowed, “WHAT did you say?”

He said quietly, “Come here and shake my little finger so you'll forgive me.” I said, “Avery, you've gone crazy. I ain't shaken nothing of yours” and I turned to walk away again. “Hey John...come here...” I kept on walking and yelled back, “I've got to get back to work.” He said, "John, I'm going to just stand here until you come over and wiggle my little finger so I know you've forgiven me." 

I had students coming soon and I didn’t want them to see this guy sticking his little finger through the chainlink. I turned and stomped over to the fence. I reached down but it was too low. I kneeled down on one knee in the dried manure and wiggled that old man's finger. That grizzled old cowboy grinned up at me and I felt all the anger, resentment and bitterness drain out of me. I felt so silly wiggling his finger that I started to smile myself. And then, there we were – two cussed-mean cowboys grinning at each other with tears in our eyes. At that very moment I forgave him completely and the relationship was immediately restored.

It’s the way of the world to hold grudges and harbor unforgiveness, but it is the way of those forgiven by Christ to freely forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us. Avery and I talked about horses, not about faith, but I suspect that he knew Jesus Christ. He certainly knew the principles, importance and the power of forgiveness. He knew that if I'd walked away angry and unforgiving, our relationship would be forever changed. 

Is there someone you need to forgive? Someone's little finger you need to wiggle? Or are you the one who needs to poke your finger through the fence and ask for forgiveness?  No matter how scary that may seem, no matter how intimidating the person might be on the other side of the fence, through the power of God and the miracle of forgiveness, even the most stubborn of us can be brought to our knees and relationships can be healed. Amen?

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