At what point is our level of acceptance hindered? At what point does someone hit the mark of “asking a lot of people” to accept them? Is there a breaking point for forgiveness of behaviors in the past that were considered UNacceptable? Is it possible to have a past of such extreme that acceptance comes at quite a high price?
Biblically standing many would cite Matthew 18:21-22…
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Of course, this particular citation is referencing behaviors done directly toward you. I’m not specifying to that extent, but just behaviors in need of forgiveness in general—whether direct at you, or someone else.
What can be even more burdensome is when these unacceptable behaviors come with “permanent” reminders—ways of their existence still remaining even long after the intent/reason/purpose for the behaviors might have changed or been forgotten.
So to what extent are you, or a group as a whole, willing to accept those with a burdensome past? Do you think you could be forgiving of the “extreme,” even with constant reminders?
Let me help you try to picture an “extreme” case…let’s imagine together…
[Feel free to picture me sitting on a window seat and pushing a small “hidden” button and a little red trolley car comes ding dinging along a track behind me…HA!]
[The following story is rated “R” for adult language. Well, media today would rate it “PG-13” but one word in general would give it its “R” rating if you asked my mother…HA! Read on at your own risk.]
You live in your town. Okay, maybe your city (this is the big-time because we’re talking “extreme”). You live out in a cozy suburb of the city, of course; not in the inner-run down parts where gangs are part of your passing in your everyday commute.
You attend a small church congregation—200 on Sunday mornings when everyone is in town and no flu virus is going around. The membership is made up of a fairly conservative group with a majority population of middle to later-aged individuals. It’s a pleasant group of people who get together to worship their God.
One day a man (and his wife and young daughter) move to your city. They have come via Greyhound with their belongings all wrapped up in brown paper bags. They were able to get themselves a small efficiency place at a complex willing to allow month-to-month rental payments with no questioned asked. The man has recently gotten out of prison. His previous charges are not known, but he admits to previous gang involvement.
His plea is that he left his hometown in another state because he wanted to change his life. He knew how difficult it would be for him staying there being around the same setting that influenced his past behaviors so he moved to your city with hopes of change. He claims to want to get his life right with God and to “do the church thing.” He has called you to talk to you about coming to your church. With your accepting heart, your first reaction is “of course! Our church will open its hearts and welcome you with open arms.” But then he stops you to disclose what is still unknown to you…
The man tells you his past gang involvement was pretty extreme and he has the tattoos to prove it. He informs you that his appearance can be hard to accept. You tell him that doesn’t matter, to which he continues to share with you the explicit level of his body markings.
He says there is barbed wire tattooed around his neck—harmless I suppose, but “tough” when trying to fit into a gang. He also has the true markings of a gangster. He discloses that his right cheek as several tear drop markings. Without his sharing, your limited gang knowledge reminds you that each of those tear drops represent individuals who that person has hurt or killed while being a part of a gang. He then continues. He admits to having a life-sized hand with the middle finger gesturing to the world imprinted on the back of his head. And not to leave those glancing at him from the front out, the phrase “Fuck the World” tattooed across his neck just above the barbed wire.
So, could you accept him? Could your church accept him? Would you place stipulations on your “acceptance?” Would you tell him it would be necessary for him to wear a covering of some sort over the back of his head? I’m sure any current/past gang member could come up with a bandana to suffice. ;)
Would he be expected to sit in the back pew, or could you sit in a pew behind him and look at the finger gesturing at you as your minister preaches about worldly sins? Could you place yourself in a one-on-one Bible study with him and share with him the passages on love face to face with the phrase “Fuck the World” staring back at you through the remainder of the study?
This man might be pressing the limits of “acceptance” right? I mean he has the “permanent” markings to bring his past history to the forefront in most situations, so can acceptance still be established with such “hatred” displayed?
At this point you might be thinking, “Oh please! That definitely is the extreme, so what’s the likelihood of that ever happening?”
It happened. And it happened to some of the people I was the closest to growing up in my hometown church congregation.
I suppose my friends at this congregation were willing to be led by their hearts. They truly took on the ministering and sharing of their gospel through Colossians 3:5-8 where it says…
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
They were able to accept this man and his family for who he was claiming to be now, and who he admitted to having been in the past.
Unfortunately, it was the news of who he is accused of becoming in the future (which represents today), that has brought his story to my attention…
[The following story is rated “PG-13” for graphic details. Read on at your own risk.]
A matter of months passed as this gentleman continued his “new” life in his “new” town. Him and his family were able to move into a better living situation, with the help of the church, and he and his wife took on the blood of Christ through baptism within the first few months of their attendance with the congregation.
Slowly things began to change, however. Checks in and out of drug rehabilitation clinics were occurring for both the man and his wife. He began to have difficulty making the bill payments, even with the financial budgeting advising that he was getting through a man at the congregation—who happens to be a close friend of mine. The family's financial situation was tight, as their income was limited to SSDI checks (Social Security Disability Income).
With time the man began to struggle with the adjustments and unfamiliar stresses of his “new” lifestyle. The pressures became too much for his coping ability and he lashed out at his wife, resulting in her and her daughter leaving him. The man continued to struggle. He cut off connection with the gentleman from the church who was helping him handle his finances—leaving him with threats to hurt/kill him. The man ended up checking himself into a group home. So time passed until this past week…
Wednesday evening police released word that an older gentleman in his 70s had been murdered at his home. His body was found on the porch. He had been shot, execution style, in the back of the head and stabbed in the abdomen with a 12-inch serrated knife. Witnesses say his daughter and her boyfriend were the last seen leaving the house that afternoon with the father’s SUV. The “boyfriend” being the “changed” man from the church.
The police were on the look-out for the couple. Time passed and people from my hometown church were unnerved and anxious. The man who had helped the man with his finances was beside himself when the news reached him. The police were in contact with him immediately having got notice of the death threat that “the man” had posed to him in recent weeks.
The police were called in for 5-minute interval drive-by “checks” on the church congregation during the Wednesday night evening service. The congregation was informed of the situation and asked to be on the lookout and to report any contact they might have with “the man.”
It was “the financial advisor” man who was given the most concerned attention by the police however. It was this gentleman who had gotten the closest to “the man,” through offering his caring heart and unconditional forgiveness for his past history. This gentleman was the one who was expected to have “the man’s” SSDI check arrive at his home in the next couple of days, as SSDI checks typically arrive at the first of the month.
Would “the man” show up looking for his money? Would “the man” try to contact the gentleman to hurt him or to get his money? The police didn’t know, nor did the gentleman—all he could do was pray.
It was early Saturday when the news came in that “the man” and his girlfriend, the accused suspects in the murder case, had been taken into custody when making a stop at a hospital in the state of Arkansas.
The heart-driven gentleman and his wife from my hometown church were then able to return to their home safely without the aid of police escorts, as the past couple of days had been. Prays were being lifted up for the restraint of the accused dangerous individuals. But minds still wondered…
Minds are still boggling at the mixed thoughts of occurrences. Had acceptance gotten to too much? Or had “the man” gotten to the point of not being able to accept his “new” life for how it was becoming? Maybe could he not accept himself and forgive himself for his past—sending him spiraling back into the ways of his past?
I don’t know, but as the trial begins to pan out over this next week, you can bet I’ll be keeping in touch with those who were closer to the action than I—those who were able to look past the past and accept today for a “new.”
See “him” for yourself here.