An essay on the value and reason for forgiveness, and why you should never give up till the fat lady sings.
You all know that I picked Melba for her brains and fell in love with her for a thousand other reasons. The 1940s and the 1950s were a wonderful time to go to High School, fall in love, and plan for a life of wonder and excitement. Little did we realize the wonder and excitement that would become the everyday part of our life in a lifetime of marriage and family.
Melba and I had very little time in high school for a normal Friday night date. We both worked after school till midnight, studied, ate supper, and I drove her home. Church was important and simple. Morning worship, we all sat together in the sanctuary, and there was no moving around, going to the bathroom, talking or passing notes. If you broke those rules, there was trouble in “River City.” Youth group was on Sunday evening, and we missed most of that because of work. There were no classes on morals; Christian or otherwise, you were expected to have been taught by your parents and know the boundaries. Kids talked in hushed tones at school, and you marveled at what others were talking about and you had a million questions that no one was answering. One night, Melba and I had the same night off, and we went to a movie, Room For One More.
That night, we began a serious talk about the kind of family, and the size of the family that we would have. It kind of revolved around the movie, Room For One More. I don’t believe we set out with a goal in mind; we just came up with nine birth children, one fully adopted boy, and 67 babies, children, and youths that we heart-adopted into our home for six months or more. There were many others that came for a day, week or month. I am not counting them. There was always room for one more. Melba’s great gift from God was that she could treat each one with love, discipline, rules, and kindness without regard to race, where they came from, or who their birth parents were. That opened the door to a lot of sin, problems, injuries, crises, tragedies, heart break, and a need for a lot of forgiveness. As well as a lot of unasked for advice, criticism, and rejection about how we did and are doing the job that we together asked for by opening our home to always having the room for one more.
Jesus as the elder brother, Savior, and God of a multi-billion people came across the same problems and needs about forgiveness. In Luke seven, an account of an evening at supper is told. It has a bearing on the rest of this essay.
Jesus is in the midst of his ministry and gets an invitation to supper at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Simon has a lot of questions about Jesus and wants to get a close up and personal time with him. Simon is much more interested in who Jesus is and what he is all about than he is in being a good host. Perhaps there were others at the dinner as well and Simon had been very busy caring for them. At any rate, Jesus was treated as a second rate guest, or not treated with courtesy in any way. It is hard to tell from Doctor Luke’s narrative what was going on. We can judge much from the attitude of Simon.
While they were reclining at the table and enjoying the meal in the open air patio, a woman of the street, a well known hooker came into the supper. I can see her pausing along the outer wall, and then, spotting Jesus, she made her move to anoint him with an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. She must have been good at what she did; this is an expensive gift.
I want to pause and consider why she bought the expensive gift, why was she here, and what were her motives? I am sure that the best we can do is to consider hypothesis without solid facts except the final statement by Jesus in Luke 7:50, “Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you, go in peace.’”
Had she stood in the back of the crowd and heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount? Had she hid in the shadows and listened to Jesus talk to other women and show them the way to leave the life on the street and become whole and respectable women again? Had she hid herself in the dusk of evening and listened as Jesus around the campfire describe to his followers the way of righteousness? Somewhere, before this night, I believe this woman made up her mind to change her lifestyle and she had already turned in faith to Jesus’ teachings. That is why Jesus could say “Your faith has saved you.” He did not admonish her to go and sin no more, change her lifestyle as he did with the woman taken in adultery in John 8. She had changed, repented, and came to show appreciation to Jesus for her new life. Now, of course, I could be way off, but follow me in what happened.
She had bought the alabaster jar of perfume, and was coming to the dinner party uninvited to show her appreciation to Jesus. He would be where he could not run, laying at the dinner table his feet extended behind him. She would not have to say a word, she did not come prepared to wash his feet, and she could logically assume that Simon’s household servants would have done that. She brought no water, or towel with her. She came to anoint with perfume to show appreciation.
As she walked into the patio dinner she saw the dirty and rock bruised feet of Jesus still in his walking sandals. They had not been washed, no salve put on the rock bruises. She was already on an emotional high over the repentance and the plan to come close to Jesus and touch him, anoint him. Now, she saw how he, this one that meant so much to her, had been neglected and the rush of emotions about repentance and the neglect of her new master, her tears overflowed copiously, and no woman would anoint dirty feet with expensive perfume. Her tears at once began to make mud puddles on the dirty feet of Jesus, stinging as they oozed into the bruises. This brought more tears and with love and kindness she washed his feet with the tears and with kisses she cleaned his feet, unbundled her hair, and wiped his now clean and wet feet as she continued to kiss the feet of the one whose teachings had changed her life, gave her respect back to her, and gave her reason to live again. Now she could anoint his feet with the costly perfume. She broke the seal on the bottle, and suddenly the patio was filled with the beautiful aroma of expensive perfume. I can tell you from cultural anthropology studies, no cheap perfume was put in an alabaster jar.
This suddenly awakened everyone at the dinner table. Simon, seeking to regain control in his own household, began immediately to think like a religious right wing Pharisee, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—she is a sinner.” I have always wondered how it was that Simon had such an intimate knowledge as to what kind of sinner she was.
Jesus not only knew all about this woman, apparently much more than Simon did, he was reading Simon’s mind and asked him a parenthetical question, “Who loves the most, when little and much is forgiven?” Of course, Simon missed the whole point of the question, answered the accepted answer, and Jesus scolds him. “Do you see this woman? I came into your home and you did not wash my feet, you did not give me a kiss, you did not put oil on my feet, you paid me no respect at all, you treated me as a scum ball off the street. She came in, washed my feet with her tears, kissed me over and over again, and anointed me with perfume; her many sins are forgiven because she loved much…” (Paraphrase of Luke 7:44-48).
Simon then heard incorrectly Jesus say, “But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” I think Simon was hearing, “You don’t need much forgiveness, so you have loved me a little, I understand.” Simon made the classic Christian Pharisee mistake, “I am pretty much okay as I am, God will overlook my little sins; I am okay, so I sure don’t have to put myself out. I don’t have to go out of my way to love anybody, surely not someone that lets ‘her’ touch him.”
The tragedy is, and was, Simon needed forgiveness every bit as much as this ex-hooker, and perhaps more, but he walked away from that supper without the forgiveness that comes from repentance that changes the mind, the heart and the direction of those that fall down at the feet of Jesus. He was all too wrapped up in his own world of religious rules and restrictions, felt he was a-okay according to his requirements, he saw no need of Jesus or true repentance. I know that Jesus was standing ready to forgive and welcome Simon as he did the girl off the street. Simon just wanted none of that; he just wanted the prestige of having Jesus at his dinner table, and being able to brag, “I had Jesus and some of his disciples over to dinner last night, and what a disappointment, he allowed a nasty, dirty ol’ hooker off of the street to touch him.” It wasn’t until he died and found himself in Hades that he came to his senses. It was too late then.
Since we are only told about 33 or 34 of the days of Jesus’ 33 years of life on earth, I wonder how many more women as in this story, or the one taken in adultery and tossed down at Jesus’ feet in the temple, that Jesus dealt with during his lifetime. How many more Simons, how many more times of forgiveness. We don’t get much follow up accounts either; how many times did Jesus have to come back and talk to, and forgive again, those with whom he was dealing? Was there ever a time that he had forgiven someone, and then they turned their back on him and returned to the vomit and mire of sin, disappointing Jesus? John says that if everything that Jesus did had been written down, the world could not hold the books (John 21:25).
I was reading in the Christian Standard this week about the wonderful father, son, grandsons that are serving in the Church with favor and success across America. The four examples spoke of men that had one or two sons or daughters, and what a wonderful job they have done. I knew three out of the four examples, and they are and have been wonderful examples, totally successful, and truly an example to us all. These men have had high profile and high paying jobs as very successful Christian leaders. I am glad that they used them for the example, so perhaps the younger families do not become afraid of children and rearing kids in the Lord in the real world.
However, many of the successful ministers that I know have had sons and daughters die of drug use, had divorces in their families, had prodigals that ran far and long from home, and did not return until they ran out of money, ran out of options. They were rejected by those that they had associated with because they no longer offered anything, and society had turned their back on them and they came to their senses as did the prodigal in Jesus’ story. These Christian men and women often were the pioneers of new work where no one was watching or helping. They worked long hours and had to skimp on extras for their kids for the sake of the kingdom. They took into their home abandoned kids that Jesus loved and no one else gave a damn about. These kids often brought with them very bad habits, sinful behavior that under the cover of darkness was spread throughout the new family. The kids saw their father, grandfather treated with disrespect and they made some bad decisions that took them on the wrong road all the while daddy and mama seeking to pray them back and reach out to them. They saw daddy and mama work two or three jobs to provide for them the meager things that they did get. They saw the lifestyle of those that daddy loved and prayed for go from bad to worse and daddy forgave them and their kids. The kids then decided that if they can get away with it and get daddy’s forgiveness, why not try it and if caught, get forgiven. There is a great gulf fixed between being the minister of a well established church, and editor of a major Christian magazine. Between being the President of a major Bible college, and retiring to a full time church of prestige, and being on the mission field, where they keep you poor to keep you honest and humble. Where your parents bring in filthy, disease-ridden children to share your room so they won’t die on the street. I am not trying to excuse anything. Neither am I going to be Simon and pretend that everything is okay, and I am okay and you are okay as long as we don’t have to deal with the filth of the street. In 58 years of ministry, I have walked with the wealthy and famous, I have sat in the offices of the professionally proficient, and I have held the father-minister that was holding his son still on the street, dead from an overdose. I have chassed the prodigals, and rescued the babies from the drug dens. I have had guns pulled on me, and weapons waved at me and used to threaten me. I have cried with many, and I have realized that the larger your family the greater your liability to be the victim of Satan’s evil schemes to destroy the pioneer, the one that takes the chance to turn one mina into ten minas on the high risk field of reaching for a new hold upward in a world of high mountains of crime, social sicknesses of sin and degradation that many never see because they are safely in their parsonages and sitting by the fireplace reading their one, two or at most three children a bed time story from the Bible. I am not jealous, I am not envious, and I am doing exactly what I promised God and Jesus I would do six decades ago, exactly what I want to be doing. But perhaps you will follow me a few more pages and understand why I preach with a broken heart each Sunday and everyday in between.
There are a lot of my critics that blame me for seeing “good” in people that is not there. I am accused of causing the heartache about three grand- daughters for Melba and I for being willing to extend forgiveness when I was asked to meet with a thief and a druggie that had stolen many thousands from our church that included a late model 15 pass, one ton van, electronic equipment, CDs and so much more, then forged checks while I was in the hospital and after I got out. We took care of their son, and kept the government from taking him as the government had their other children. There was another marriage where there was a son that was in their home and there was abuse and arrests for child abuse. It was a mess. They went to prison, and then separated, the mother taking the child we had cared for and moving to Missouri. The man going to jail the second time for violating parole. He went to drug rehab the second time, and got clean and was now paroled again, and the parole agent called me and asked if the parolee could meet with me and we could talk forgiveness. I am in the forgiveness business and I said “Yes”. I did not check the terms of the parole, and the adult probation people violated the terms of the parole. Soon the forgiven man and his mother were attending church, and before long, he was dating my youngest daughter. Now understand that this man is a college graduate, brilliant, was putting on a good show of being a Christian; howbeit a very Pharisaical Christian. His mother only was at church when he was here and then just when convenient with her health and attitude. The end result as soon as he was engaged to Jeannie, he and his mother quit church and all of his reasons were very Pharisaical and superficial.
The forgiveness stands, but that has nothing to do with his paying back to the church the above $5,000.00 restitution ordered by the court. Today, because of the court error in calling us about forgiveness, Jeannie and the three granddaughters are restricted from coming to church and are restricted from having anything to do with Melba or I. Even though Jessica is living with Gene and Nina and Janie and Jenny are living with Jeannie and her boyfriend. I am confident that God can protect the girls, and that we can pray a hedge around them. I am listening to my own advice to Dale years ago when he was restricted from seeing his three sons, “They will be 18 soon, then you can have them the rest your life.” The only solution to this problem that I see for now is the complete conversion to Jesus Christ, not as a religion, but as a total commitment by all four adult persons involved. There is no one doing right, and no one being honest and moral. The problem was not with my forgiveness, it was with my being satisfied with dealing with folks that put on a show of Christianity, but were not deep heart, real Christians. The forgiveness was like what happened at Simons house; it was all about someone else’s sin and bad behavior; that is how they all four feel. I am the easiest one to blame the whole situation on, and that is how it stands, it is my entire fault according to my youngest daughter.
The situation is changing so rapidly that I am not losing any sleep over it; it is not over till the fat lady sings.
I am not a virgin at having to give forgiveness to family, those children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and those that have been an important part of our family for six months or more. Over the past forty years I have had to sit and listen to teen girls explain why they were pregnant and not married, I have had my car repossessed out of my driveway because some- one forged my signature on the title and then did not pay the payments they had charged on my car that I thought was free and clear; having to pay for it again to retrieve my car from the impound area. I have had to face a son that stole a beer at a store where he worked and listen to why he was fired while we had family company from out of town. I have had to hire lawyers to handle evil schemes that a youth had cooked up that ended in grand larceny. I have had to go to jail to see youth that had got arrested for drunk driving. I have had to listen to the crying of a minister from a long way off that his daughter had been led astray in drinking by one of my enlarged family. I have had to listen to why my progeny did not want anything to do with other members of my family because of divorce and family fights. I have had my few small treasures stolen by family, and retrieved them again because some other member of the family found them out and righteously brought them back for me to punish, or to approve of their punishment. Along with that, I have had my share of the “Simons” that folded their arms and wondered how on earth I could love, give forgiveness, and hold them in my arms as we cried together. I had my share of the elder brother kind that could not rejoice with me that the prodigals were welcomed home. Forgiveness has become a way of life for me because when I look in the mirror of my life, I see all the horrible deeds that Melba and I have done, I know mostly me, and God has been so faithful to forgive me and give me a second, third, fourth chance; I could do no less.
Now I look back over those 58 years of forgiveness, the crowded dinner tables, and crowded beds where virginity was stolen by a throw-a-way that was welcomed into our home, and I see the successful kids that everyone else sees and compliments Melba and I on our wonderful family. I see chemical engineers, preachers, counselors, PhD’s being worked on, nurses, teachers, lawyers, car salesmen of the highest order, computer business owners, youth and student ministers, college students of all different kinds, teachers that are loved by their classrooms, and the parents of their kids. I see student counselors, social workers, and so much more. I see five graves of the only ones in the family that I am sure will never again need forgiven. I see a wonderful family that people marvel at the accomplishments.
Yes, for the kids that, like the lady of the street, comes in to bring a love offering for repented sins, for the “Simons” that at times were so busy concentrating on one of the other’s sins that they could not see their own.
For the ones, like the woman taken in adultery and tossed down at Jesus feet in the temple in John 8, caught red handed and sorry that they got caught, there has had to be a lot of confession, crying and hugging, and forgiveness. Yes, I was looking past the stolen, the schemes, the bad business deals, the sexual sins, the lies, the chemical sins, and I saw, crying on my lap the potential dynamic minister that would be a great leader. I saw a teacher that would shape hundreds, yes, thousands of kids for life and their kids on into eternity. I saw the business man and woman that would change their world and I saw the alcoholic youth that I felt would be the example to a whole new generation that I would never see.
Thank God all of that was stretched over 80 plus kids, over fifty years and counting. Melba and I are a long ways from getting that brood reared in the home where there would always be room for one more. Thank God I did not pull the plug and cast away each one as they made great mistakes and I went into the pulpit the next Sunday with what seemed to me to be a neon sign on my forehead flashing, “Bad Dad, Bad Dad.” Thank God I found a bit of grace left, and another chance to get it right in hundreds of cases. Thank God I could see past the basalt coating and see the beautiful and highly polished gem that was hidden just beneath what the world saw in each one. That is why I can go into the pulpit each Sunday with a broken heart for one of mine, including the enlarged church family scattered around the world.
And what should I say about my church family. Why am I going to court with the father of three again, seeking to get it right? Why did I chase the mother of those beautiful children for years seeking to get it right, and why I am smiling as we get it right, now? Why do I still see hope for that chubby girl after years of her making bad choices and even turning our home into a drug house when we let her move in? Why do I keep loving and trying to help folks that don’t really want help; they want me to okay what they are doing, and that is not going to happen; at the same time, I am not going to quit loving them and seeking to get them on the right track.
At least in the last 55 years of preaching I don’t think of a Sunday that I did not go into the pulpit with a broken heart over someone, family, extended family, or church family. I have for years tried to keep my emotions out of my preaching; I have not always been able to do that. I often break down in tears during or after the sermons and lessons realizing how far short I come from the Biblical pattern for a father, minister and church leader. I would love to be sanctified, and a national example like those that the Christian Standard put in their magazine. Yet, with all the heartaches over the years, they amount to nothing compared to the joy and happiness over abandoned kids that made it, the bruises and injuries were nothing compared to the successes I see in these kids that sat around our table and now are on their own in a wonderful Christian world that they would have never been allowed to experience without being heart-adopted in and sitting next to our birth kids. Broken hearts mend fast when Jesus brings joy in the morning. One year of being a broken hearted preacher again is nothing to pay for an eternity of Joy when God mends the broken hearts and heals the broken relationships. The fat lady is not singing yet. We still have time to pray and get it right, to pray the prodigal home.