Category Archives: Forgiveness

The Blinding Power of Bitterness

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7

blind bitternessAt the very front end of Cain’s anger and frustration, before it had lead to anything permanently damaging, God warned him.  “Cain, you better get control of this anger, or it will get control of you.”  Well, that’s my paraphrase.  God was warning Cain about a part of the human condition to which we often turn a blind eye: anger is not something to leave unattended.  Unresolved anger, you see, turns into bitterness.  And bitterness, over time, is a disease that spreads into our heart, our eyes, our brain, and a host of other places.

I have seen it way too many times in my ministry to churches in conflict.  When passions get high and anger is left to fester over time, finding the truth about what really happened can become nearly impossible.  That is because anger makes for a horrible historian.  It twists the truth and blinds us to what really happened.  The longer we stay angry, the less credibility we have for reporting what happened.  However poor our retention rate is for facts and figures we have seen or heard, our retention rate for what we felt is almost perfect.  So, in situations which anger us, if that anger is left alone to do its dirty work, we later remember how we felt and then back into the rest of the facts in a way which supports how we felt. In other words, our brain fills in the gaps and recalls events in a way …

The Parable of the Unmerciful Driver

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

The kingdom of Heaven is like when you’re driving home on Friday evening and the interstate is a parking lot with cars bumper to bumper for like miles and miles and there is this one pitiful car trying desperately to get in line but nobody will let him in because everybody is being a jerk and this poor guy is sitting there with his blinker on waiting and waiting and waiting and so you decide to be the good guy and you let him get in front of you. Good job. You are a Christ-like person. But then along comes another pitiful soul in the exact same situation and he pulls up along side the first guy hoping the first guy will let him get in front of him because he’s thinking, “this guy just had mercy shown to him so surely he will show a little mercy as well” and, frankly, you’re thinking the same thing which is why you are so angry when the first guy WON’T BUDGE and will not show any mercy at all to the second guy. Suddenly, you’re not thinking nice things anymore. You just want to do physical harm to the first guy’s car for being such a jerk. You’re thinking, “Hey, I showed you some mercy, what’s your problem!?” And that is like the kingdom of heaven.

As a church mediator working with conflicted congregations, I have come to believe that the sin posing the most significant threat to church unity today is the sin of unforgiveness. I cannot …

Help for the Hypocrites

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

hypocritesPeople who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”.  I have a theory about why they say that…

…because we, the church, are in fact full of hypocrites.  We are bad about that.

I am certain you can fill in some of your own favorite examples of this.  Paul’s remarks to the Corinthian church above point out one of my favorite examples.

Paul reminds us in the church that we have been given BOTH the message of reconciliation AND the ministry of reconciliation.  They go hand-in-hand.  The message is shallow and powerless without the ministry.  The message (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) requires the ministry (i.e., that we love and forgive each other as well) in order to have any power, any credibility at all.  Otherwise, it is just…hypocritical.

It makes complete sense if you think about it.  It requires us to practice what we preach.  Those of us in the Christian church have preached the message well for a long, long time.  “No matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, God loves you and forgives you.”  But if we are not, at the same time, willing to act out the ministry of reconciliation, i.e., “…and I love you and forgive you as well…” then the message rings shallow no matter how eloquently we speak it.  All the cool videos and all the polished presentations, all the great books and all the amazing sermons, all …

Love the Porcupines…Quills and All

the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:22-25

porcupine quillsI’ve learned to be careful in my application of Paul’s “body parts” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Once you start assigning body-part descriptions to individuals in your church, the discussion can all go south pretty quickly. The truth is, most of us would rather not know what body part many in our church would use to describe us!

I am thinking today about the “difficult” people in the church, the “porcupines” (painful to love), the ones Rick Warren describes so eloquently as the EGR people (Extra Grace Required). Paul would describe them as “seeming to be weaker” or ones “we think less honorable” or “unpresentable parts”. These are the people we generally would prefer not to be around, the ones we wish would try visiting another small group rather than ours (except that we would not wish that on any of the other leaders). These are the extremely high-maintenance folks with negative outlooks on everything and everyone. They are “projects”, needing lots and lots of attention. They are exhausting.

As I consider this category of fellow believers, my first thought is to question whether or not I am perceived as one. I think it is worth our while as leaders to examine the evidence of how influential we really are …

Healthy Relationships: That the World Might Believe

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21

No matter what kind of car I drive, no matter how expensive, how amazing, nor how reliable it is, if I cannot see out the windshield, it is worthless to me. It’s ironic. A $20 part (a windshield wiper blade) can make all the difference in whether an otherwise amazing vehicle is of any use at all. The windshield, you see, is the only lens through which we, as drivers, can see the road ahead.

windshieldJesus spoke of a similar concept in John 17. At a moment in time when Jesus was considering the global revolution He and his followers were about to start (we call it “the church”), he lifted his eyes toward heaven and prayed. Understanding the challenges the future church would face in bringing a lost and broken world to see and believe in Christ, he asked his Father for the one thing we would need most in order to accomplish our mission: relationships which point to Jesus.

Here is what Jesus understood and a truth we must grasp as well: if the key to a fruitful church is “Christ in us”, then the key to the world seeing Christ in us is relationships in our lives which point to Jesus. In short, our ability to show this …

The Divisiveness of the Cross

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea… Exodus 14:27-29

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Luke 12:49-51

cross of lightFor one entire race of people, the Red Sea will forever represent God’s provision and liberation. To another, it represents destruction and devastation. It is all a matter of perspective. With the events in Exodus 5-14, the most powerful empire of its time was brought to its knees and forever crippled. But those same events served as a new day dawning for another nation. Destruction and devastation on one side. Salvation and transformation on the other. That is the divisiveness of the Red Sea in Exodus 14.

In this holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar, our attention has a laser fix on an entirely different symbol: the cross. Like the Red Sea, it is a symbol forever engrained in a culture for thousands of years. Like the Red Sea, it represents an end of an era and the beginning of an era. But, unlike the Red Sea, the harsh division between the those two eras carries forward even to today, literally dividing all of …

The Spiritual Gift of Voting “No”

Thursday Re-mix:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  Numbers 14:30-32

voting noOnce it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”.  The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that.  You know the ones I mean.  They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.

They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal.  They can also be influential.  Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation.  And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.

You know how Caleb’s story ended.  In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years.  We don’t know …

Confession and Your Leadership

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17

confession

I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?

Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.

David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.

Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we …

It’s a Relationship, Yes…but Different

Tuesday Re-mix:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

 Psalm 32:3-5

Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth.  Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way.  Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets.  Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship.  We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God.  We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ.  It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then.  It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word.  But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.

The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes.  So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions?  Why does that metaphor fall short for …

How Many Breaths Have You Taken So Far Today?

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

hot-air-balloonThe average person breathes about 28,800 times a day.  Did you know that?  That’s a whole lot of hot air.  I wonder if that’s enough to fill a hot air balloon?  If the average adult breath is about 1 liter of air, and if the average hot air balloon is about 77,000 cubic meters of air…how many of us would it take breathing all day long to fill a hot air balloon? Somebody do the math on that and give us the answer in the comments!

For the Christ-follower, forgiving is a lot like breathing.  I think when Jesus corrected Peter in Matthew 18, saying we are to forgive seventy times seven, what He meant is that we’re not even keeping score like that.  We don’t count at all, because we will be doing it way too much to keep track!  For us, it is like breathing.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive.  We breathe in and we breathe out…we forgive again.  That is the way it is supposed to be in the church.

Forgiveness may be the most misunderstood concept in Christendom.  That’s ironic, because forgiveness, it seems, is supposed to be the hallmark of the …