Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Life-Changing Lesson..

Dear Friends,

The most important lesson I ever received in Christian forgiveness wasn’t in church or 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 40 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 50's and 60's television westerns and old movie westerns. And then one night he committed the unforgivable sin...

I had a big ex-race horse appropriately named “Fury” who was in a stall right next to his house. The high-strung thoroughbred had gotten nervous that night and was making noise so Avery climbed over our 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 his 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-splattered 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 son of a (blank).” He came over to the fence and I cussed him out something fierce. I had every right to do so. 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 turned and stomped over to the fence. I had no intention of forgiving him but I just needed him to go away and leave me alone. I had students coming soon and I didn’t want them to see this old guy sticking his little finger through the chainlink. I reached down but his finger was too low to the ground. I kneeled down on one knee in the dried manure and wiggled that old man’s finger. That was when God intervened. The 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, tobacco-chewing cowboys, one old and one young. Both 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 religion, but I suspect that he was a man of faith. 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.

If I were to ask you, “Who is the one person you struggle the most to forgive,” what name comes to your mind? Unforgiveness changes our relationship with the other person and with God. Jesus emphasizes the sin of unforgiveness in our Gospels because no other sin causes us greater separation from God. “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15

Who is it that you need to forgive this Lent? Whose little finger do 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.

♰  The Five Principles of Forgiveness  ♰

Forgiving is not excusing. 
It's not okay for the other person to have done what he or she did. It's been said that “Forgiveness is no longer holding against someone what they deserve to have held against them.”

Forgiving is not "forgetting" about an offence. 
The Bible tells us that God forgives and then forgets. We forgive and still remember, and yet, after awhile those old hurts will begin to fade from your memory because they just won't seem so important anymore. Our other choice, to hold on tightly to our unforgiveness, keeps the anger, resentment and bitterness fresh in our mind.

Forgiveness is not blame-shifting the responsibility back on us. 
Forgiving another does not require us to accept responsibility for another's wrongdoing.

Forgiveness is not always associated with remorse or repentance on the part of the offending party. 
In fact, we may be needing to forgive someone who is no longer in our lives or perhaps is no longer alive. Forgiveness is for us, not them. Forgiveness is for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Forgiveness is so that we can sleep better at night.

Forgiveness does not always, nor should it always, bring reconciliation between people. 
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Reconciliation always requires forgiveness but forgiveness never requires reconciliation. Reconciliation should only take place after the offender proves trustworthy of the relationship.

Forgiveness is made easier when we fully understand the reality of our mutual human fallenness. When we comprehend our own human weakness and propensity for evil, we become better able to keep the sins of others in perspective. Then as we dwell on the pain others have caused us, we see the pain that we have caused others. 

Forgive us our trespasses Lord 
as we forgive those 
who trespass against us.

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