by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
Nobody can hold a grudge better than I can. If holding a grudge were an olympic event, I'd have a closet full of gold medals; if it were a part of baseball, the Cardinals' Mark McGwire would still be trying to break my record. Unfortunately for me, though, holding a grudge has nothing to do with being a Christian.
There's a young man at work named "Greg" (his name has been changed to protect the guilty). "Greg" has a reputation as something of a foul-up. I might add that this reputation is not exactly undeserved. "Greg" and I have, as they say, "a history." One morning, "Greg" fouled up really badly, so badly that he was fired automatically. At the time, I was his supervisor and I was responsible for cleaning up his mess. Afterward, he went and talked to the boss and begged for another chance. Much to my surprise, "Greg" was rehired. I was stunned, upset and angry: I knew that I wouldn't have been given another chance and I wasn't the only one who felt that way.
One day, I was talking to some coworkers when I said, "If it were up to me, 'Greg' would be homeless right now!" Afterward, I realized what a terrible thing that was to say! My anger and bitterness toward "Greg" were affecting my witness. I'm sure we've all experienced similar "Did that come out of me?" incidents (at least, I hope so, because it will make me feel better). Nonetheless, as Christians, we have a higher standard to strive for, the standard of Christ (Heb. 5:9). Whenever we say the Lord's Prayer, we say, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (Matt. 6:12 KJV)
In a recent children's message, our pastor, Allen Ladage, asked the kids whether they would rather go to a skunk or a bunny for help. They answered that they would rather go to a bunny, because a skunk might get mad and spray them, while a bunny would be soft and gentle. Allen encouraged them to be like bunnies in their dealings with others.
Our message is best received when it is told by example. In my case, if I'm going to deliver a message of forgiveness, I need to be ready and able to forgive. The same thing holds true for the rest of our message: we can't preach love if we don't love; we can't encourage peace if we're unwilling to sow seeds of peace; we can't preach patience if we're sharp and impatient with others, or gentleness if we're ready to get mad and spray them like a skunk (Gal. 5:22-23). The message we are called to live is one of mercy, love and peace (Matt. 5:7-9), not anger, hatred and bitterness. It's the difference between theory and practice. There is no such thing as "theoretical Christianity" (Jas. 1:22-25).
As I thought of my reaction to "Greg," I was reminded of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). At one time or another, I have played all the parts in the story: The prodigal son, in need of forgiveness; the father, loving and forgiving; and the older son, who would not forgive, the one who needed forgiveness most of all. The part we play depends on our response to Christ; the part those around us play depends on us.
"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph. 4:29-32 RSV)