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Forgiveness is the Church’s “Purple Cow”

Tuesday Re-mix –

“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald

In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being RemarkableSeth Godin teaches that a business (and I would contend every organization, every group, every institution, every movement and every individual) must find a way to set itself apart in order to stand out in its industry, like a purple cow standing in a field of Holsteins.  I believe his metaphor introduces an eternal truth, one which it would behoove the church to understand and embrace.

Thinking about what the Christian church has to offer the world, what it’s “purple cow” must be, it really has to come down to one thing: forgiveness.  That is the “felt need” the church can address.  If the church is serious about making disciples, if it is serious about introducing a lost and broken world to the only Savior Who really can save, then the church must get very, very good at the whole concept of forgiveness.  Paul, talking to the church at Corinth, speaks of both the message of reconciliation (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) and the ministry of reconciliation (i.e., that we do too).  I believe Paul would say that, if we are not demonstrating forgiveness in our relationships with each other (the ministry of reconciliation), then our message of the gospel is meaningless.

The irony in this is that, for the most part, the church proves itself week after week to be  surprisingly bad at forgiveness.  Our relationships often do not look any better than the relationships in the secular world.  Statistically speaking, the marriages in the church have not done any better than the marriages outside the church.  Employment relationships within the church are, in my experience as a church mediator, every bit as dysfunctional as employment relationships outside the church (in fact, many churches I know are taking virtually their entire employment policy right out of the secular handbook).  I could go on and on with other illustrations, but I think you get the point.

If the church is to have any influence at all, any “testimony” in the community we serve, we simply must become experts in the area of forgiveness.  We must teach it, in all its complexities and nuances.  We must demonstrate it in all our relationships both within the church and outside the church.  It really must become the earmark of our culture, sewn into our very fabric.  Our gatherings must reek of grace and forgiveness of one another.  Our neighbors and co-workers should look at us differently because of it.  It should be a characteristic of our lives which is completely unexplainable, unmistakable and undeniable.  What if that were true about us? What if, when your name came up in discussions at the office, the first character trait they described was “forgiveness”?  What would that mean?  What would that look like?

Here is some good news: as followers of Christ, this attitude of forgiveness is already in our DNA.  As we permit the Spirit to live through us more and more, forgiveness happens.  All we have to do is get out of the way.  Learning what forgiveness is and where it comes from and what it looks like wouldn’t hurt either.  After all, if it really is our “purple cow”, we’ve got to be the experts on it.  It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.  Right?

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