Too Big to Forgive?

We talk glibly about forgiving when we have never been injured; when we are injured, we know that it is not possible, apart from God's grace, for one human being to forgive another. -Oswald Chambers

There are distinct moments in one's life when the path you are traveling forks unexpectedly, and you have to decide which way to go. Someone has hurt you. Will you choose the path of bitterness or forgiveness?

Jim Wilson, in "Spirit of Revival," notes, "Bitterness is based on sin that is somehow relates to you. It is not concerned with how big the sin is; it is based on how close it is. For instance, if some great and gross immorality occurs in Iran, Iraq, El Salvador, or Colombia, what do we do? We read about it, but we will not feel guilty. We read about it, but we will not feel bitter. We might be appalled or amazed, but we do not feel guilty, and we do not feel bitter. Nevertheless, it was an awful sin, and someone actually committed it. So it does not depend on how great the evil is, it depends on how close the other person is to me. Bitterness is related to those people who are close. Who are likely candidates? The answer is simple: fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, immediate superiors, immediate subordinates, co-workers, business partners, and maybe some other relatives."

The hardest people to forgive are those closest to me, because when they fail, the hurt is deep. In studying the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Supreme Example of forgiveness, I have been humbled and convicted about my reluctance to forgive.

In the past, when I've read about the crucifixion of Jesus, I've been amazed by His love for me. But recently, a new aspect of the "mind of Christ" was made clear to me. I've always pictured the cold-hearted Roman soldiers to be strangers who carried out the bloody horror of the crucifixion as God the Father allowed them to. But until recently, I never considered how the Lord Jesus felt about each man who took part in His death.

That Roman soldier who is nameless and faceless to me was no stranger to Jesus. Years before, the Lord Jesus chose parents for this baby. He formed his tiny body in his mother's womb. He carefully shaped the hands that would beat him. He had been present in the hour of his birth, witnessing both the pain and the joy of his mother. He watched this baby's first clumsy steps, listened his stuttering words, smiled at his childhood games. He watched him grow and mature. The Lord Jesus lovingly surrounded him with witnesses of Himself, the Creator of All Things: He opened flowers for him to enjoy, cooled him with afternoon showers, painted breathtaking sunsets at the end of the day. "Watch this! This is for you!" He knew his fears, his sorrows, his joys. This man was special to Jesus. In every moment of this man's life, Jesus had been present, longing for a personal relationship. Jesus loved this man more than I love my parents, more than I love my husband, more than I love my child.

Yet this man, who had been showered with love throughout his life, beat Jesus mercilessly, laughed at His agony, and watched Him die with cold, uncaring eyes. Jesus gave only good, and received evil in return. Yet somehow, He drew in a painful breath and cried aloud, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He prayed for this man's soul. He wanted him to be reconciled with the Father. He wanted his slate wiped clean. He didn't want him to suffer eternal punishment for what he had done. He desired good for this man.

How dare I read about my Lord's suffering, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and fail to do the same! Can I really look Jesus in the eyes and tell Him there's too much to forgive? Can I tell Him my hurt is too great? Can I tell Him I've suffered too much?

The only reaction of a forgiven heart must be forgiveness. If you had asked me a few months ago if I would be able to forgive to this level, I would have firmly replied, "No." And you know, it is true. There is nothing in me that can or even wants to forgive. You may believe the same of yourself, and you'd be right. But what I've discovered is what I can do is irrelevant; what matters is what I allow Him to do through me. It's all Him.

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. -Luke 17:3-4

Note to my readers: I want to personally thank you for continuing to read my blog over the past few months, even as we've had to return from the field to rebuild. I didn't see this coming, but the Lord did, and He's in control. The past few blogs haven't been typical, and I've had to stray from my "Real Missions" theme as I'm back in the States. But there's a lot more "Real Life" now, as I've shared how the Lord is working in my heart. Thank you for praying for our family and staying in touch. -christine-

Is This Really Good?

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

It's a verse we teach our children. It's one of the first verses we give someone who is hurting. We've scrawled it on sympathy cards and hung it on our walls. You'd think I'd have understood it by now. But I don't think I did until recently.

"All things work together for good." In my mind, that meant that whatever problem I'm facing will have a happy solution. I've understood this verse to mean, "Hang in there, God will fix it all. He's already got a solution figured out. Just be patient. You'll get your happy ending."

"To them that love God." That's me! Hey, I'm trying to live for Him! So this verse guarantees me results...good ones. If I've been a wise, biblical steward, my money problems will go away and I won't lose my home. If I have raised my child right, he will never go his own way in rebellion. If I am a loving wife, my husband will be faithful to me. If I treat others with kindness, they will reciprocate. I've reduced God to some kind of cosmic vending machine. If I put in what he wants, I get the product I want. It's that simple. Isn't that what I deserve?

Facing a trial that you didn't see coming will cause you to go back to the Bible and read it as if for the first time. Suddenly, nothing is as it seemed. God is not Who He seemed. Has He let me down? The trial in my life has caused me to thirst for Him, to know Him more. Because evidently, I've believed things about Him that were not true.

In the case of Romans 8:28, I wanted to know what "good" He was talking about. This doesn't seem good! Could it be that He wasn't referring to my circumstances at all? "Getting it" was as simple as reading the next verse: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." Was this the "good" He was referring to? Not an escape from my problems. Not necessarily a happy ending here on this earth. The good He promises is my sanctification. Isn't that infinitely more important than my satisfaction? He is much more concerned with my holiness than He is with my happiness. So He's using a trial to drive me to Him, to understand Christ's suffering more than ever before, and to know His love and grace on a daily basis.

Being covered by His grace doesn't necessarily mean my problem will work out the way I want it to. But it does mean that I can be the person He wants me to be. It means He holds me tenderly and comforts my heart. It means I learn to depend solely on Him. It means there are days I can't get out of bed without spending time in His Word. It means every verse, every sermon, every hymn has a deeper, multi-dimensional beauty. That's the good--the sweetness found only in a trial. And that's how we can give thanks right in the middle of it. I thank Him for Who He is. I thank Him for what He suffered for me. I thank Him for what He's revealed in my heart that needs to change. I thank Him for less satisfaction with this present world, resulting in a greater longing for Heaven. I thank Him for the good, and for being good.

Dead Man Walking

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

"Why do you think that when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead, he had him come out in his grave clothes?" A wise man of God asked me a question last week that I had never considered. Why didn't he leave his graveclothes neatly folded inside the tomb as Jesus did? Why didn't he emerge in a shining white robe?

The four days Lazarus's body spent in that grave had surely caused quite a bit of decay. The intense heat combined with the lack of embalming would have rotted the flesh quite quickly. Surely there were parasites already doing their work inside that tomb. The sight and smell of those graveclothes had to be absolutely revolting. If Jesus had the power to completely resurrect and renew Lazarus' body, why wouldn't he have taken care of the putrid, worm-ridden graveclothes as well?

What must have the onlookers thought as Jesus commanded them to "Loose him"? I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure some of them thought, "No way! I'm not touching that!" I'd probably have been one of them. Maybe others thought, "Um, sure, Jesus, but let me see if I have any hand sanitizer on me...or better yet, anybody bring Lysol?"

But there were a few special people there who flew to their friend, threw their arms around his neck, and cried with joy. Their disgust for the graveclothes was completely overshadowed by their love for Lazarus and their amazement for what the Lord had done.

Over the past few weeks, I've been grateful to have many such grace-filled people in my own life. When your family goes through a difficult time, especially if your family is in ministry, you fear what personal failure will do. It's not going to be pretty. Even though the Lord has been working in our hearts in miraculous ways, the effects of sin are still there. The hurt is real. The shame is crippling. I can't help but wonder, Who can stomach this?

Since this journey began, I've watched in utter amazement as my precious grace-filled brothers and sisters have looked past the graveclothes. They've run to us, embraced us, loved us. I look into their eyes, searching for revulsion, but it's not there. The Lord somehow allowed them to see past the ugliness to witness what the Lord can do--resurrect, revive, renew.

Too many times, we hurry the "failures" into closets. "This is so embarrassing!" And it's true--there is no doubt that sin brings shame and painful consequences. But when we do that, we miss the best part. Thank the Lord, when we cry out to Him in repentance, He can bring beauty out of the ugliness. He can make all things new. He can restore. I want to be part of that. I want to witness the miracle. I'm praying every day, "Lord, give me grace." And He is.

Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. -II Thessalonians 2:16-17

A New Chapter

Just one month ago, my life took a very unexpected turn. In just one afternoon, everything came crashing down, and it became very clear that life would never be the same. My family was facing great hardship; it became very clear that we should not go through this battle alone. After some difficult phone calls and much counsel, we returned to the States for an indefinite amount of time in order to resolve these issues.

These have been painful days. I am in the fight of my life, in areas I never dreamed would change. Everything that I thought was sure and stable: my walk with the Lord, my marriage, the ministry, life in Honduras, homeschooling my daughter, is tossing about in a sea of uncertainty. Just when I catch my breath, thinking I'm over the wave, another hits.

Areas of my life that were once private are now exposed, and I am raw. I am asking questions I've never imagined uttering. I'm struggling with sins I didn't know I had.

But He's holding my hand through it all. I can feel His firm grip, and I know that no matter how much I'm shaken, I'm in His hands and He's not letting go.

I'm not sure where this road is leading. I'd like to share one of my journal entries from this past week:

This is not the Story I wanted to write. My Story told of foreign lands and incredible adventures. It described culture shock, dangerous situations, and soul-stirring missions at its best. My Story was going to be a best-seller.

I never saw it coming. In just a few moments, everything swirled and spun upside down. I gasped for breath, but didn’t want that breath to come. It hurt too badly.

What did come was the Death of my Story. There was no more beauty to write. New Story was ugly, filthy, and black. It was horror. It was something that happened to other people, never to me. I squeezed my eyes shut, clench my knees to my stomach, and waited to wake up to Old Story. But it wasn’t there. Old Story was no more. Everything about Old Story was a lie. I couldn’t write about it, because I couldn’t believe it anymore. The stench of New Story pervaded everything. New Story was my reality now.

This is not the Story I chose. But it’s the Story my Father gave me. He ripped up Old Story and handed me the pen. Start over. Write New Story.

I don’t like this Story. Nothing about it is familiar. Nothing about it is beautiful.

“Just wait,” He whispers. “You don’t know how it ends.”

As I began my New Story, the Lord spoke to me through the words of a song I had sung/played with Pilo Tejeda (a man in our church in Honduras) just a few weeks before life changed forever. I listened in awe to my own words that now held new meaning for me.

Purify my heart,
Let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart,
Let me be as gold, pure gold.

Refiner's fire,
my heart's one desire
Is to be…holy;
Set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be…holy;
Set apart for You, my Master,
Ready to do Your will.

Pray for me as I'm in the Refiner's Fire...I want to come forth as gold! I know I can't do it in my own strength; but He's holding my hand every step of the way.

Blessed Be Your Name

One of the funniest parts of helping out our Surgical Team in the OR during the Medical Brigade is listening to groggy patients' comments. This year, one gentleman under heavy anesthesia begged me to scratch his beard for him every two minutes or so, each time rewarding me with "Oooooh, gracias, Cristina. Perfecto!" Another elderly gentleman told me I was a beautiful angel sent from heaven (that was the morphine talking). One lady cried and told me she loved me like a daughter. Being the only Spanish-speaking person definitely had its perks; my self-esteem was boosted with every case! (I accept even narcotic-induced compliments.)

But one patient in particular stood out to me. Freddy is a gentleman in his 40s who attends a Baptist church just outside Progreso, where he participates faithfully by playing piano. This would be his first surgical procedure, and he was understandably nervous. Since I knew him personally, I tried to give him a little privacy as they prepped him to have his umbilical hernia repaired. I busied myself on the opposite side of the room, but the anesthesiologist called me over after a few minutes.

"I think the patient is trying to say something, and I can't understand him."

"Brother Freddy, are you having any pain?" His eyes were a little glazed, but he smiled and continued to talk.

"Wait a minute. He's singing!" I listened a little more closely. The words were a little slurred, but I was definitely hearing "Power in the Blood" (Quite the choice considering his surroundings!).

"He's singing hymns?" The anesthesiologist was surprised. "Well, that's a new one!"

Freddy continued his song until he finally went to sleep.

After the surgery, we bustled about cleaning the room, and sure enough, we heard it again. Freddy was coming to with another hymn! I chuckled as I pushed his bed into the recovery room, hung up the IV bag, and placed the blood pressure cuff on his arm. It was time to really wake Freddy up now.

The anesthesiologist shook him gently as I said, "Brother Freddy, wake up. You've had your surgery." He squinted at me groggily and smiled, "Halleluuuuujah!" Then he continued with his repertoire of favorite hymns as he gradually returned to consciousness.

I was amazed. Singing in surgery! Whoever heard of something like that! What a testimony!

I want to be Freddy. On my darkest day, during my most painful hour, when I can't even see straight, I want to keep my song. I want to praise Him when it's tough. That's when the world will find out what's truly in my heart. Do I really believe what I've been saying on the good days? It takes really bad day to find out. I hope I do as well as Freddy did.

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name.

Every blessing you pour out
I'll turn back to praise.
And when the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your name.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your glorious name.

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all that it should be
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name
When the road's marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.

You give and take away,
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name.

-"Blessed be Your Name" by Matt Redman

Free at Last

What an exciting day! We always look forward to the medical brigades we coordinate through Medical Missions Outreach. The last time we held a brigade, we had a surgical team perform hernia and gallbladder procedures in the local public hospital, in addition to the general clinic held at a local public school; we plan to have these surgeries once again this year, next Monday through Thursday.

This year, two doctors flew in early to help with preoperative consults for the surgical candidates. Since I am responsible for coordinating the surgical team, I assisted Dr. Waller and Dr. Bray this morning and translated for these consults.

When we first arrived at the hospital, we noticed quite a few policemen walking around the premises. Honduran policeman will definitely draw a foreigner's attention; they carry large AK-47s. We wondered what in the world was going on at the hospital. There are always security guards, but these policemen were all over!

It wasn't long before we found out. We were on our second consult when the head nurse stuck her head in the room. "Can you see the prisoners now? We shouldn't keep the police waiting long."

"Huh?" I was too startled to translate right away. I informed Dr. Waller of our next two patients' status; he raised his eyebrows, shrugged, and said, "Well, send them in!"

Two policemen escorted the first patient handcuffs. I was a little nervous when they began removing them, but just tried to smile and act as if everyone were escorted in this way. After the exam, he began to tell us about his life. He'd trusted Christ as a boy and gone to church faithfully; but as a young man he'd made some poor choices and run from the Lord. Dr. Waller encouraged him to make things right and return to the Lord.

"Yes, I'm just like the prodigal son!" the prisoner exclaimed.

The second prisoner came in without handcuffs, but he looked like he needed them a lot more than the first guy! This guy was built like a linebacker, had a long ponytail down his back, and wore a scowl on his scarred face. He looked like he'd seen it all. If I'd run into him downtown, I'd probably have been terrified.

To my great surprise, he spoke in English: "I'm here because I have a hernia."

The doctors examined him and we learned his story. He was Honduran, but his grandfather was a Native American (Apache) who had come to Honduras at some point.

Dr. Waller asked him, "Can you imagine what it would be like if someone walked into the jail and offered to pay for you to go free? We can't pay your jail sentence, but Someone has already paid the price for your sin debt." He began to share with this man what Christ had done for him. Dr. Bray explained how he could decide to accept the free gift of salvation offered to him. His hard face melted, line by line, until he finally nodded: "I will do that today."

He bowed his head, and I wanted in amazement as Dr. Waller led him in prayer. He repented of his sins and asked the Lord to save him.

This is why we are here! I can't wait to find out how the Lord works this week through the medical brigade. Please pray for our efforts. We want to show the sick and hurting the love we know through our Savior Jesus Christ. Every patient we see will hear the gospel and make a crucial decision. Pray that lives will be changed for eternity!


Did you miss the stories from our last brigade? You'll want to read:

"Searching for a Way Out: Maria's Story"

"Fighting for His Life: Maynor's Story" (BE ADVISED: GRAPHIC IMAGES)

A Change of Heart

The stories I share aren’t usually as personal as this one, but I’m not sure why. God’s greatest miracles aren’t usually things that happen to us; they are how He works in us, changing our hearts.

Last year about this time, I began to struggle with discontentment. It all started when a house down the road from us became available. We went and looked around with the owner one afternoon. As the tour progressed, my eyes grew wider and wider.

This house was nice. Really nice. It had not one, but two bathtubs. I would no longer have to wait for furlough to take a nice long bath. Not to mention how much Claire would enjoy bathtime; four year-olds are not fans of showers. The home also boasted a hot water heater! I immediately began to dream of washing the dishes with hot water once again. The living spaces were air-conditioned. I thought of our own kitchen, dining room and living room, and how hot they get, especially when we have company over (See, I was thinking of others!). The house was newer and prettier—I loved the colors she had chosen and the beautiful tile floors. There were real glass windows instead of the louvered kind we had. The yard was fully enclosed by a giant security wall with electric current running across the top. Wow, we certainly wouldn’t have to worry about break-ins! I thought of our chain-link fence running down one side of our current property and how insecure I felt sometimes. This would be great! Claire could play in the yard without me watching her like a hawk!

“Well, this house is beautiful, but I’m sure the rent's out of our price range,” Robbie told the owner. “We can’t pay more than $*** per month, and we have a really good deal where we are.”

“Oh, I would let you have it for that!” she agreed. “We can go to a lawyer and work on the paperwork.”

We were speechless. This is amazing! Thank you, Lord!

I was already redecorating in my mind. I measured my curtains, deciding which ones to use in the new, larger rooms. We could move the air conditioners that we had purchased for our bedrooms to the new house; since she had already installed AC in all bedrooms and the living room, I could put one of ours in the kitchen! I could cook without sweating like I’d run a marathon! I was absolutely giddy with excitement.

I never saw it coming. Had I been paying better attention to my husband’s face, I might have been forewarned. We prayed about it that night, emailed my parents to ask them to pray, and went to bed. The next morning, he told me: “Chris, I don’t have peace about taking that house.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” The Lord had given us that house! I was sure of it! How could I live here with no hot water, cooking in a kitchen with broken tile and no AC, being embarrassed of toilets with hard water stains (Will our company think I don’t clean them?), when such a beautiful, secure house was right down the street. And the rent was less than we had paid for our first little apartment in the States!

“I think the house is just…too nice. Can you picture the poor people from our church being comfortable there?”

"But, but…there are also people in our church who live in houses just like that! And we’re American! They expect us to live like that.”

“I just don’t have peace about it.”

And that was the end of it. Just like that, the dream died. Lord, please don’t let me become discontent over this. I had been perfectly happy in our current home for five years. But now I sat down and stared our cracked bedroom wall with its peeling paint. Why would He let a beautiful home become available, dangle it in front of me, only to snatch it away? I could not understand.

Furthermore, why were we in our thirties now with no home of our own? Other missionaries we knew had purchased homes by getting loans from churches or family members. We had been frugal with our money and saved enough for a down payment, but we simply couldn’t finance a home with the outrageous interest rates here. It wouldn’t be wise. So we saved and prayed. I often thought of just purchasing some lot out in the country back in the States and hanging on to it for an investment. At least then we’d have something in our name. That’s what you are supposed to have by our age.

My thinking was being controlled by a list of rules in my mind. Rules about what it meant to “be a good steward.” Doesn’t that sound biblical? We should have a certain percent of our income in savings, set aside a certain percent for retirement, and we should own property. Those are the rules. Robbie and I are both tightwads when it comes to spending and had worked hard to save for the future; but somehow, we’d never had the opportunity to purchase a home. What were we doing wrong?

Over the next few months, the Lord began working in my heart; He started by throwing my “Rulebook of Good Stewardship” out the window. What if He was calling our family not to own a home? What if we don’t live in the best house we can afford? Is it the right decision just because we can afford it? What does He want to do with our money? Somehow, I’d always believed that if a good thing became available and the Lord provided the funds, He wanted us to have it. Was there more to it than that?

I’ve been broken to realize how materialistic my thinking was. What a horribly limited, genie-in-a-bottle role I’d assigned to my Heavenly Father! How could I demand these “essentials” from the One who didn’t have a place to lay His head on this earth? I was the exact opposite of Christ-like.

Little by little, He’s opened my eyes to a more eternal perspective. This is not it. I know that. But I’ve not lived like it. Who cares if I never get my dream house here on earth? So what if I’m not comfortable? What if I’m not supposed to be?

With His Word, He’s been cutting right through the lies I’ve believed one at a time. And He’s still working. It’s a painful process, but I’m seeing some things clearly for the first time and I can’t wait to discover more. I'm not "there" yet; I'm still working on this area daily, praying for victory. But the joy and freedom He is giving me through this process is indescribable. I don’t know what He has in store for our family, but I don’t ever want to limit Him again.

Note: Aside from the Bible, which has transformed my thinking more than anything, the Lord has also used two books in particular over the past 9 months to work in my heart and help me gain a more eternal perspective: Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Radical by David Platt. I highly recommend both (to read and reread!).
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Five Year Anniversary Video

Team Honduras 2009 Year-in-Review Video

Team Honduras on Facebook

Team Honduras on Facebook