Forgiveness Formula: Finding Lasting Freedom in Christ - Christian Living, nonfiction
Here's the first chapter of "Forgiveness Formula"
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Chapter 1 - The Greatest Mathematician
Do you recognize any of the following names? Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, Tony Robbins, Richard Simmons, Deepak Chopra, Lou Holtz, Oprah Winfrey. If you do, you know there’s one common theme in this list…motivation!
Whether you agree or disagree with their viewpoints and methods, these folks have been known around the world as some of the most inspiring and motivational people of our day. From their best-selling books and CDs to their highly rated TV shows, these movers and shakers have certainly had success in getting people off their couches and into the game of life.
While this is merely a short list, would any list of motivational speakers be complete without mentioning a guy by the name of Matt Foley, played by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live? From his use of props, including flattening living room coffee tables by falling on them, to instructing teenagers on the ills of “smoking doobie,” most would agree that this man who “lived in a van down by the river” knew how to motivate in a style all his own.
Was Jesus Motivational?
In the summer of 2000, I (CJ) realized in a way like never before that Jesus Christ was more than just a “motivational” speaker. He wasn’t simply a “good moral teacher” as some have described him. He wasn’t merely “inspirational” as many believe him to be. The word that describes the way I began to see Jesus that summer was…brilliant. In my eyes he became the most brilliant mathematician who ever lived-not because of the elaborate formulas he came up with like Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. In the most authentic way, I discovered that this Jesus of Nazareth knew 2,000 years ago and he still knows today what adds up to a FULL life. You might even say that I experienced more freedom as a human being than I ever had in my previous twenty-seven years.
It was that summer of 2000 that I would meet for the first time my stepdad. You see, my parents’ marriage crumbled after twenty-six years, ending in divorce in the summer of 1999.
You need to know that I grew up in a household where both my parents loved me very much. My dad worked hard to provide for his family at a nearby plywood mill, the same one he’s been employed at for over thirty-eight years. He worked countless hours of overtime in order to buy my brother and me the extras we took for granted many times. My mom was a stay at home mom. She was (and still is) an outstanding seamstress who made many articles of clothing for us through the years. Both of my parents made every effort to attend the many sporting events we were part of, many times driving three-plus hours each way in order to get there. They provided a loving home for Jason and me and gave us as many advantages as possible growing up. We weren’t wealthy, but we weren’t dirt poor either. We had everything we needed.
My Reaction? Anger
I first found out that my parents’ marriage was falling apart in May of 1998, only three months before my own wedding day with Shelley. Kind of ironic that one marriage was falling apart while another one was just beginning.
It would be just over two years from the time I was given this news before Shelley and I would meet my new stepdad (mom was remarried in December 1999) and I would need every second of those two years to undergo a true transformation on the inside.
You see, I found out that my stepdad pursued a relationship with my mom, a married woman.
I realize that my mom and dad’s marriage didn’t fall apart overnight. I realize there are many other issues surrounding their divorce. However, at the time, it was easy for me to put the entire blame on my mom and stepdad. It was easy to feel anger towards them. I always tell people it was probably a good thing there were over 2,400 miles separating me from my stepdad…roughly the distance between Findlay, Ohio and Roseburg, Oregon.
Everything in me wanted to physically harm him. I’m not sure what I would have done had I been face to face with him at that time. I literally had thoughts of murder going through my mind as I dwelled on the events leading up to my parents’ divorce. Out of my anger, I also said some very hurtful things to my mom that I later regretted. Have you ever said something to someone that you wish had never left your mouth?
One such statement I recall making to my mom was one that she said ripped her heart in pieces. I told her with every ounce of venom I could muster, “If you choose to stay with this jerk, you’ll lose a son and cease being my mom! You let me know what you decide.” For two agonizing weeks, I let that statement torture my mom before I sensed the Lord asking me to apologize. My mom would later say that those two weeks seemed to take years off her life, due to the anxiety I caused her.
Words cannot describe the pain and anger I felt as I began to think about the implications of my parents’ divorce. Holidays and family gatherings would never be the same. Instead of seeing Mom and Dad in one place, Shelley and I would have to make the effort to see both of them in separate towns and then be careful not to show any favoritism. This was very delicate in the beginning as feelings were easily hurt and everyone tried to adjust the best they knew how.
I had been a follower of Jesus at this point for over six years but never had I been tested like this in putting his teachings into practice. More on this in a moment.
Before we look at a few of them, we need to go to a passage in the Bible near the end of Luke 6 where Jesus asks his listeners a very important question:
So why do you call me ‘Lord,’ when you won’t obey me? Luke 6:46 (NLT)
Let’s pretend you and I are in that group of listeners Jesus is speaking to. If we were to answer Jesus’ potent question, we might respond by saying, “Well, Jesus, that’s a fine question you ask and we’re pretty much all in agreement in our answer for you.” The crowd grows tense as the spokesperson continues, “Look Jesus, have you been listening to yourself lately? The reason we call you ‘Lord’ and don’t do what you ask is because you’re teaching some really weird stuff…as a matter of fact we’re all wondering where you came up with this babble?”
When you look back at what Jesus has been teaching this crowd earlier in Chapter 6, you realize he’s been teaching some ludicrous-sounding stuff to folks. These things were new to his listeners and possibly caused them to question much of what they had been taught up to that time. Jesus’ opening statement to this group will get things started with a bang:
God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is given to you. Luke 6:20 (NLT)
Another way you could translate this would be “Lucky are you who are poor.” Can’t you just hear the people cheering, “Woo Hoo! Where do I sign up, Jesus?” Does anyone really want to be poor?
And for his next statement, Jesus says,
God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. Luke 6:21 (NLT)
Fine piece of advice Jesus, but what about this growl in my stomach that I can’t seem to ignore? I want to be satisfied now! Let’s look at another ridiculous-sounding teaching:
God blesses you who are hated and excluded and mocked and cursed because you are identified with me…When that happens, rejoice! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven… Luke 6:22-23 (NLT)
So let’s get this straight. You want us to throw a party and get silly whenever we’re made fun of, belittled, excluded, picked on and spit upon because of our association with you? Not sure if you’ve noticed, Jesus, but each time you open your mouth and say things like this, there’s a sudden drop in weekly attendance.
Luke 6:24-26 has some “peculiar” teachings as well but I’d like to skip down to a section where we really begin to see Jesus “going off the deep end,” so to speak:
But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Luke 6:27-29 (NLT)
Choosing To Love My “Enemy”
In the two years that went by from the time I first found out about the affair to the day I would meet my stepdad, I had plenty of time to cry out to the Lord for help. As a follower of Jesus, I wanted to demonstrate a love and forgiveness for my enemy that I could never muster up on my own. I remember praying, Lord, you have to give me a supernatural love for my stepdad that I don’t feel right now. There will be a day when we have to meet one another for the first time and I don’t want to make a fool of myself. Please take all my feelings of anger, hatred and condemnation and replace them with your love, mercy and acceptance. I trust you’ll do this transforming work inside me as I stay connected to you. And may Shelley and I be used by you to be agents of healing and restoration in the lives of my mom and stepdad. Amen.
And so, I found myself praying something like this on a regular basis leading up to that summer of 2000. And you know what? God began to answer that cry of my heart. It was as if he was draining me of hatred day by day and slowly filling me with his love from head to toe. It’s been said that time heals all wounds. Instead, I’d rather give credit where credit’s due: Over time, God heals all wounds. This was certainly the case regarding the wound in my own heart.
The time finally arrived for Shelley and me to fly out to Oregon and meet the new additions to the family. My dad also remarried a nice gal named Betty, which meant I had the special bonus of meeting two new stepparents on one trip…what a treat! On the day I met my stepdad, I felt an unusual peace and calm inside.
I truly sensed the Lord wanted to do something special and I actually began to feel excited about meeting my new stepdad. This was evidence of God’s transforming work since I would NEVER have felt this way previously.
We knocked on the door and my mom answered. With a smile, she welcomed us inside where I saw my stepdad for the first time. I could see he looked somewhat nervous and awkward, not sure exactly what to say. As we both reached to shake one another’s hand, I sensed the Lord saying to me, Give him a hug. Really? I thought.
Okay, Lord, you know what you’re doing. And in a split second, my cordial handshake turned into a truly heart-felt hug. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion from that moment. My imagination began to take off. This could end up being a really awkward moment, I said to myself. Sort of a Tommy Boy meets the Godfather-like moment.
It was something I can only describe as God-inspired. He showed up. He answered my prayer in the most faithful of ways. Like an electric current, I felt a love well up from deep within me as I embraced this man I once had visions of beating with a crowbar. Almost immediately, I could sense him relax as he realized my intentions weren’t to harm him.
I went to bed that night full of renewed faith in a God who amazed me in a fresh way. He took me outside my comfort zone and asked me to do something truly outside myself. He proved in a way I had never experienced that he’s the greatest mathematician of all time. He knew then and he still knows today what adds up to a full life. It didn’t seem to add up in my small mind at the time, but looking back, now it makes all the sense in the world.
One of the most freeing feelings in the world comes when we choose to love and forgive our enemies. Jesus has known this all along. He’s given us teachings that we have to put into action by obeying, even when we don’t know exactly how things might turn out. I’m happy to say that, nearly a decade later, my stepdad is no longer my enemy. I now call him a friend.
Early Enemy Encounters
When I was in third grade, a kid named Chad began going to my school after his family had moved into our small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Almost immediately, Chad made it known to everyone that he was now the new king of the hill and would put anyone in their place who thought otherwise. He wore this jacket that looked puffy all over and pushed the sleeves up to make it look as if his arms were as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. To a third-grader, this was downright intimidating!
In the beginning, some of us had warmed up to Chad because we saw him as an asset for the football games we would play on recess. He was taller and stronger than most of us which served him well. But over time, Chad began to lose friends both on and off the field due to his dominant and bullying attitude. As he grew more unpopular, his violent behavior only worsened. A blanket of fear now covered every part of the playground as Chad picked on any one, any time. Someone had to stand up to Chad…but who?
David and Goliath?
Though I was probably three inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter than Chad, I was arguably the fastest kid on the playground. So I devised a plan and decided to use my speed as a weapon to inflict some serious pain on this unruly Neanderthal.
I waited patiently to carry out this devious deed and finally had my prime opportunity one day when my team was playing against Chad’s in a game of “touch” football. As we were getting ready to kick off, I gathered my team into a huddle and gave them the following directive: “Leave Chad to me!” By this time, whenever Chad’s team would receive the ball, it was common knowledge that Chad would be the one to catch the ball…almost guaranteed. The grass field where we played our games had a slight slant to it and on this kick off our team was running downhill which made the conditions for “The Plan” even more ideal due to the momentum being in our favor. I remember kicking the ball as high as possible to create more time to execute Chad--I mean--the play.
From the moment the ball began its ascent into the air, everything would seem to unfold in slow motion. At this point, the best picture I can give you is to imagine a scene from the movie Braveheart where William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) is leading his men on a barbaric charge across the battlefield to encounter the Englishmen. On this day I was William Wallace. And I yelled all the way down the field as we pursued our enemy with a vengeance.
I mentioned “touch” football earlier and that’s what we were supposed to be playing according to playground rules. But on this play, the rules stayed inside the classroom. Though my own team had no idea what I was about to do, they would find out soon enough.
Sure enough, as if it was choreographed, Chad caught the ball and had little time to escape “untouched.” At this point, I was at full charging speed and less than ten feet from my nemesis. Chad fully expected me to slow down and begin my attempt to simply touch him but when I didn’t slow down, his eyes began to widen as big as saucers. I took one last step in full stride and leaped into the air, similar to a lion as it pounces on its prey. As the full force of my weight and speed hit Chad, I had decided to wrap my legs around his waist in order to ensure a controlled tackle and also to add more trauma as we hit the ground with me on top. As we hit the ground in that epic moment and I saw the back of Chad’s head hit the ground with tremendous force, I found myself being thankful we were on grass and not concrete. As Chad lay there dazed and confused with a bloody lip, I rose up and stood over him in a dominant stance and yelled, “IN YOUR FACE, CHUMP!!!”
For a split second, I felt an elation and triumph that words cannot describe. But this emotion was much shorter lived than I had anticipated. I thought surely I could feed off this sweet victorious nectar for a week or more before it wore off. But this was not to be. As I looked down at this whimpering fellow third grader with fresh bruises to both body and ego, I was suddenly struck with the reality that I had hurt another human being. I felt cold inside and realized that the best part of me had not been displayed there on the field. As Chad slowly rose to his feet, I found myself apologizing profusely (and also pleading with him to not tell the teacher on duty). When he saw my sincerity in asking him how he was doing, he accepted my apology and nodded his head with a respect I hadn’t been shown by him previously.
Was I a hero in the eyes of my classmates that day? Sure I was. Had a bully been humbled? Sure. Did I feel good about that? Oddly, no. You see, I believe even at the age of eight, I could see and feel the difference between my own math and the mathematics of Jesus. My math left me feeling empty when I thought it would add up to the correct answer.
But Jesus knew then and he still knows today what adds up to a full life.
He knew then and he still knows today what leads to a clear conscience.
He knew then and he still knows today how to diffuse a bully.
Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2 was attending a ceremony where the band would be receiving an award for their album titled How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Another musician came up to Bono and asked him arrogantly in front of others, “So tell us Bono, how DO you dismantle an atomic bomb?” Bono humbly responded, “Love. You dismantle an atomic bomb with love.” What Bono may or may not have realized is that Jesus is the author of this anecdote. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies…do good to those who hate you,” he was giving us the blueprint to dismantle “atomic bombs” all around us.
When I chose to use my own math that day on the playground, I was merely adding gasoline to an already out of control wildfire. By using the math of Jesus, we become “firefighters” who help push back the flames of hatred and violence rather than fan those flames. The writer of Proverbs says it well,
Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses. Proverbs 10:12 (NLT)
I wish I could go back to that day in third grade and use the math of Jesus instead. In fact, I wish I could do many things over again in my life. Don’t we all? But I love the word “today.” Today, we have some grand opportunities to let these brilliant teachings of Jesus shine. Next time that guy cuts you off in traffic and you feel like applying your own math to the situation, just remember the greatest Mathematician…You might end up diffusing an atomic bomb.
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