Tag Archives: forgiveness

Working the GPA

It was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  I don’t know which excuse to camp on:  that it was an 8:00 a.m. class and I had to drive 84 miles to get there or that the prof was a mediocre adjunct (or a combination of those two things).  Or maybe (here’s a thought) it was just plain old me being lazy and not doing the requisite work…but no…wait; that couldn’t be it.  Could it?

Anyway…it was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  Up until that point my seminary GPA (you know, Grade.Point.Average) had been cruising in the stratosphere.  And, since self-aggrandizing pride is a not very Christian thing to have, let’s just say I was…aw…the heck with it: THRILLED!  I was on my way to a semblance of academic notoriety and a possible award and all kinds of recognition that seemed (at the time) like it would have meant a great deal.

But that one quarter of Hebrew did me in.  It tanked my GPA.  Dropped me from the stratosphere to a mere 3.76 (I knew you were lusting after the actual number; so I complied).  That was back in the day when all you could earn for a GPA was a 4.0 (I don’t know how the “new math” allows for some GPAs to now exceed 4.0, but they are out there…weird…and just somehow wrong).

And that 3.76 made me miss the academic award by (hats off to Maxwell Smart) “thaaat much” (I know, outdated cultural reference; look it up; or maybe Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway will make another “Get Smart” movie [that would be fun!]).  The guy in front of me at seminary had a 3.8 something or some such nonsense.

I worked really hard for that number.  Lots of hours studying and juggling other responsibilities.  I worked really hard for that number and then I missed, by “thaaat much.”  It’s the way of the GPA world.  We can’t all be 4.0s all of the time.  Or, if we are, we are haunted by the time when we will inevitably encounter something out of our 4.0 reach…some endeavor other than the one in which we excel…some endeavor when someone else will steal the show and the award and walk away with “our” prize.

We live in a GPA world.  Everything about us is assessed and graded.  On those days when we make the grade, we feel OK…or maybe even spectacular…for a moment.  But then we know we have to get up the next day and try to trek into 4.0 territory again.

We live in a GPA world.  Most every encounter…with the school…at the job…with the family…with our friends…has a “graded” component.  Something that tells us we have to work really, really, really (yes, three reallys) hard.  Performance fuels our forward progress.  Performance saturates our souls.  Performance haunts us with the inevitability of missing the mark.  Because we will…miss the mark.

We are human; we are finite; we are less capable than we think.  Even if we are caught up in momentary acclaim; we know we will miss the mark.

And…when it comes to our relationship with God…we are sunk.  Even though we may work our hardest to earn the right to stand with Him and before Him, we know that our hardest is not enough.  The best that we ever do is inevitably tainted…and it’s certainly not 4.0.

And here’s the thing:  God is looking for 4.0s.  His abhorrence of sin stain means that He can only dwell in the presence of the 4.0s.  In the moment we ponder that idea; in the moment that idea reaches the core of our soul, we know we are sunk.  Because we know that a 4.0 by God’s standards is well beyond our reach.  Even a 3.9999 won’t do if 4.0 is the standard.

But what if you could, in all openness and honesty, submit someone else’s transcript rather than your own?  What if you could say to the “admissions committee” that you have a 4.0?   What if both they and you knew that it wasn’t your 4.0 but they were willing to accept it anyway?  Wouldn’t that be great news?  Wouldn’t that be the best news ever?  Wouldn’t that mean we could relax and savor a relationship with God?  Wouldn’t that mean we could pour ourselves into our work and our relationships and our recreation with the giddiness that comes with a lack of performance pressure?

Wouldn’t that mean everything?  Wouldn’t it?

Well you can.  Substitute someone else’s transcript, that is.  Jesus made the grade.  He always was a 4.0; He always will be a 4.0; and…if you trust in Him and His performance, then all the Heavenly Father ever sees when He looks at you is a 4.0.

If you are outside a connection with God, then let Jesus make the grade for you.  It’s a little humbling to admit that you will never consistently maintain a “life” 4.0, but once you do there’s a transcript with your name on it that has Jesus’ grade.  There’s no “good enough,” there is only “perfect” and only Jesus has reached that.  Let Him submit his transcript for you.  Just look at His grades:   Love…4.0; Forgiveness…4.0; Mercy…4.0; Grace…4.0; Everything…4.0.

If you’re inside; if you have a relationship with God through Christ, then you can quit trying to “make the grade” as a series of self-propelled, spirit-sapping efforts, “I sure hope God is happy with me today” kind of works.

Because…and here’s another thing…rather than making us lazy ingrates; substituting Jesus’ GPA for ours means that we are free to pursue an excellence of gratitude rather than an excellence of servitude…a pursuit that leaves us energized and “good tired” rather than exhausted and ever fearful that we cannot…will not make the grade.

I’ve always wanted a 4.0; I think I will take the one that Jesus earned and offers to submit on my behalf.  Then I can quit working the GPA and be freed to rest in Christ and be energized to pursue that excellence fueled by gratitude.

It was that one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


God is Not an Elephant — But Most of the Rest of Us Are

My last time Zambia I had an interesting encounter.  After a couple of days work with some remote churches, my hosts and I were heading back to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city.  En route, we stopped at a roadside café for some tea and scones (delicious).  Looking out across the veranda, we saw an elephant loitering by the outside tables.  We learned that this elephant often hung around the café and had been adopted by the staff.  It seemed quite domesticated for a multi-ton animal.

Elephants are curious creatures:  their trunks, their tails, their big ears, their ivory tusks all contribute to the curiosity factor.  Plus…there is one reputed trait of elephants that makes them even more curious:  Elephants, we are told, never forget.

Researchers have scrutinized elephants to help understand elephantine memory and have confirmed that there is, indeed, something to it.   Elephants have been observed to follow the same migration pathways and apparently have a way to “hand down” memories of the wheres and whats of their annual trips.  Elephant clan groups have distinct burial sites to which they will inevitably head when “their time comes” and elephants have been noted for their high-level family affinities.

All of which is to say that elephants are quite unique creatures…which serves as a prelude to this grand theological statement:

God is not an elephant.

Having cleared that up, I wish you well.  No, indeed God is not an elephant.  Particularly with respect to memory:  where (apparently) elephants never forget, God can and does choose to forget…our sin.

This is a most wondrous aspect of life with God in Christ.  Not only does God forgive our sin (“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 He has a supernatural ability, fueled by His great love for us, to forget our sin (“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” Isaiah 43:25).

This is a blog and not a theological treatise on the nature of God’s forgiveness.  For the moment, we will simply rest in this dimension of God’s grace and mercy toward us:  all the wickedness we bring before God, is forgiven and forgotten…no longer held against us…by Him.

But there, as they say, is the rub.  Because while God is not an elephant, most of the rest of us are.  

I was reminded of this when, in bolt out of the blue fashion, someone recently chose to remind me of one of my own most grievous, sinful, relational-fracturing, odious failures.  And, while clinging tightly to the fact of forgiveness from God, I was immediately transported (in my thoughts, emotions, and spirit) back to the place of that failure.  I heard the words I said and the way I said them.  I saw the looks of horror and hurt in others’ eyes.  I felt their anger and woundedness afresh.  I re-read the emails and notes and letters I had (yes) mentally filed away.  I felt it all (every bit of it) all over again.  It took me a while to climb back out of the subsequent “tar pit” of despair.  Even when I had gotten out, I still had sinful memory “tar balls” stuck to my spirit.  It hurt…a lot.  The hurt became anger; the anger became fury and then…well…

And then I was taken back to my own proclivity for doing exactly the same thing.  Because while God is not an elephant (with respect to memory), I certainly am.  Simultaneously blessed and cursed by what is (I am told) a better than average memory, I have the tendency to rehearse and repeat others’ sinful failures when confronted by the squeeze of relational circumstances.

It is so easy to dig out others’ failures and bring them to my mind (like a warped cable TV “on demand” feature) and then (of course) bring them to their minds when in skirmish mode.  It is a sad state and, with respect to memory of failures, I wish I was not an elephant…and yet it seems I am.

It’s as if the memories of others’ failures are balloons with very, very long strings attached.  We can (I can), it seems, let the balloon go until it is far distant, out of sight, and seemingly forgotten.  But like carnival balloons, I have tied the long string to my wrist and can pull the balloon back within reach anytime I choose.  I somehow cannot seem to choose untying the string and just letting the balloon go.

I have often struggled with these verses from the Apostle Paul:  “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14). 

For Paul, “forgetting” does not seem to be a memory wipe.  After all, he had just finished rehearsing his reasons for “confidence in the flesh” and counting them as “garbage.” It seems that Paul was making a conscious, Spirit-guided choice to not let the memories impact his forward progress in Christ.  And this is the choice I must make if I am not to be an elephant.

I must choose to not draw the memory of others’ sinful failures back into my presence…not to lord the failures over them nor to delight myself with my own relative “righteousness.”  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  “All” includes, well, all; and that certainly includes me.  And, as much as I would sometimes like to take out those memories of others’ sin and play with them, I must choose to not.

I have enough trouble not resembling an elephant with my carbohydrate-fueled physique.  I don’t want to be the elephant-like person who “never forgets.”  I want to forgive AND forget.  I want to “press on” unhindered by my own decisions and I want to let the balloons go.  And…it would be nice…if others on this journey with Jesus would make that choice too.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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