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Forgiveness

Forget Forgiveness – I Want Rapists to Suffer

courtroom-898931_1280I needed a couple days to cool off before I wrote on this topic. By now, everyone in America has heard of Brock Turner, the man who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman last year. While the prosecution asked for a 6 year sentence, the judge thought that a long prison term would have “a severe impact” on the criminal and gave a sentence of 6 months, of which there is a possibility he may only serve 3.

When I heard that I nearly lost my mind.

3 months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman. What has this world come to? There are no words that can express the depth of loathing I have for the man who assaulted the woman and the judge who is refusing to bring justice against the vile perpetrator.

But Chris, what about Jesus’s words about forgiveness? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to forgive and move on?

NO!

The context of Jesus’s words is not even remotely close to dealing with one person raping another. Jesus said,

“Even if your brother wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks for forgiveness, forgive him.” (Luke 17:4)

Jesus wasn’t being literal. He wasn’t advocating a 7-time forgiveness, but it you get to number 8 you’re free to withhold forgiveness. Jesus was trying to teach people about a character issue – are we willing to be people of forgiveness when people who wrong us repent and seek forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t talking about legal justice.

And Brock Turner has never repented or asked for forgiveness. He’s given excuses – he had too much to drink. There is no ownership or responsibility. There is no repentance.  All we need here is justice. And the Bible is not short on discussing justice.

  • To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.(Proverbs 21:3)
  • When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.(Isaiah 1:17)
  • For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4)

That’s just a few. We ought to be pursuing justice against evil people who wreak havoc on the lives of the innocent. This man Turner should not be allowed to escape justice for ANY reason. I tend to hold more to the thinking of the Psalmist who, when contemplating Israel’s enemies, blesses those who dash the heads of the enemy’s babies against the rocks.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,

blessed shall he be who repays you

with what you have done to us!

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7-9)

So I confess openly that I wrestle with developing a heart of forgiveness and seeing this evil man suffer. I know that, as a society, we must do better to protect people from assault and to pursue REAL justice against the evil people who perpetrate it on others.
————————————————————————-

What do you think? How do you feel about forgiveness vs. justice? Just keep your comments polite towards each other, even in disagreement.

Peacefakers, Peacebreakers, and Peacemakers: An Advent Devotion

Advent - PEACEMAKER

The four Advent themes are Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope. This week we’re talking about peace, but I wanted to take a different approach to it. I want to talk about peace from the perspective of personal conflict. Sure, we could talk about the peace that we have in Jesus. We could sing “Silent Night” and fool ourselves into thinking that a manger with a newborn baby was calm, serene, and peaceful.

The fact of the matter is that the peace that God gives us is supposed to play out in our interactions with others. As we have received peace (Jesus said “My peace I give to you) we are called to be peace makers in this world.

When Christians learn to live out the gospel in the conflicts of daily life, people are more willing to admit their shortcomings and ask for help before a crisis occurs. Families are better equipped to handle disputes, which makes divorce less likely. Members are encouraged to go to each other to discuss problems instead of letting them fester. When peace rules our hearts and our lives, we refuse to let conflict win the day.

Here are some major sources of conflict in our lives – things that can destroy peace.

– misunderstanding or poor communication
– differences in values, goals, priorities, expectations, or opinions
– competition
– sinful attitudes or behavior: the Bible says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)

Take an honest look at yourself. Have any (or all!) of these things stolen your peace this year? Perhaps it was someone else’s fault. Perhaps it was your own. But this kind of conflict isn’t supposed to dominate our lives.

NOT ALL CONFLICT IS BAD! Our response, though, can turn neutral or positive conflict into bad conflict.
Conflict is an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives. Here are some common ways we respond:

PEACE-FAKERS (What?! There’s no conflict!)

Denial. One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. Or, if we cannot deny that the problem exists, we simply refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly. These responses bring only temporary relief and usually make matters worse (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

Flight. Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may include leaving the house, ending a friendship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. In most cases, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem, so flight is usually a harmful way to deal with conflict. Flight may also be a legitimate response in seriously threatening circumstances, such as cases of physical or sexual abuse. If a family is involved in such a situation, however, every reasonable effort should still be made to find trustworthy assistance and come back to seek a lasting solution to the problem.

Suicide. When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives. Suicide is never the right way to deal with conflict.

PEACE-BREAKERS (I’d rather fight to remove conflict than to work it out)

Assault. Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally. Such conduct always makes conflicts worse.

Litigation. Another way to force people to bend to our will is to take them to court. Lawsuits damage relationships and often fail to achieve complete justice. When Christians are involved on both sides, their witness can be severely damaged. This is why Christians are commanded to settle their differences within the church rather than in the civil courts (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Therefore, it is important to make every effort to settle a dispute out of court whenever possible (Matt. 5:25-26).

Murder. In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them.While most Christians would not actually kill someone, we should never forget that we stand guilty of murder in God’s eyes when we harbor anger or contempt in our hearts toward others (see 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22).

Neither the PEACEFAKER or the PEACEBREAKER is the biblical way to respond to conflict. So how would God have us do it?

PEACEMAKERS (the godly model)

Overlook an offense. Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly and deliberately overlooking an offense. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11; see also 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger.

Reconciliation. If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged the relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “[If] your brother has something against you … go and be reconciled” (Matt. 5:23-24; see Prov. 28:13).

– Negotiation. Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to money, property, or other rights. This should be done through a cooperative bargaining process in which you and the other person seek to reach a settlement that satisfies the legitimate needs of each side.

Mediation. If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions. “If he will not listen [to you], take one or two others along” (Matt. 18:16).

Accountability. If a person who professes to be a Christian refuses to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to formally intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: “If he refuses to listen [to others], tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). Direct church involvement is often viewed negatively among Christians today, but when it is done as Jesus instructs-lovingly, redemptively, and restoratively-it can be the key to saving relationships and bringing about justice and peace.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get to a place where we can be that kind of peacemaker? Ultimately it comes down to forgiveness. It is nearly impossible to truly forgive others in your own strength, especially when they have hurt you deeply or betrayed your trust. There is only one way to overcome these barriers; that is to admit that you cannot forgive in your own strength and that you desperately need God to come in and change your heart.

SorryForgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgiveness involves a series of decisions, the first of which is to call on God to change our hearts. Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action. To put it another way, when God says that he “remembers your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25), he is not saying that he cannot remember our sins. Rather, he is promising that he will not remember them. When he forgives us, he chooses not to mention, recount, or think about our sins ever again. Similarly, when we forgive, we must draw on God’s grace and consciously decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us.

To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. In his book “The Peace Maker“, Ken Sande talks about forgiveness being described as a decision to make four promises:

1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

It’s not easy…

When we think about the forgiveness that the ultimate PEACEMAKER gave to us at Christmas, we should be motivated to extend forgiveness and peace towards others. This holiday season, be a peacemaker. Let forgiveness be an overwhelming theme of your life.

May you know the peace of God that surpasses understanding, and may you offer that peace to others.

No Touchy! Though We Shudder, Jesus Touches the Untouchable.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If they knew this about me, they’d never talk to me again. I don’t know how I could handle seeing them again in church if they touched that part of my life.”  Thoughts like that fill all of us. It’s part of the human condition. It’s something that we all have to deal with. There are parts of us that we think no one can help us with that no one can or will want to touch. We keep parts of ourselves on the outskirts of our faith. Have you ever thought, “I don’t think God likes this part of me” or wondered if he could work with you as the big mess that you are?

On the flip side of the same coin, there are some of us who don’t want to touch people in their messiness. “I don’t want to touch him. His uncleanness might rub off on me. Such was the attitude of Christians towards blacks in the 1800’s. This was the attitude of many conservative Christians when AIDS really came on the scene in the 1980’s. I say this is a human condition because it doesn’t affect only Christians.

In India the whole social structure, their caste system, is based on who is or isn’t touchable. People in the lowest caste are called untouchables. Refusing to touch something unclean and have it rub off on you even became part of the religious practice of God’s people. One of the laws in the old covenant simply said, “Or if any one touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and it be hidden from him, and he be unclean, then he shall become offensive.”

Many Christians feel the same way about the world in general. We are often concerned that, if we interact too much with the world, we will be defiled and made unclean. That leads many of us to limit our interaction with the world to “only as necessary” encounters. We do what we can to avoid contact with the world around us. But we cannot be clean without being touched by Jesus. And we cannot followers of Jesus and not touch the world around us.

Touch is an important aspect of communicating with someone. There is something intimate and close about touching other people. Maybe this is why touching is taboo in many settings – the intimacy is too much for some people to take. In terms of OT religion, the intimacy of touch made the uncleanness of one person rub off on another. In some cultures, touching is a way of showing solidarity-of being connected with someone else. I used to work in the public high school system and it was not uncommon to see two girls walking down the hall holding hands. Not the boys, of course, because American men don’t do that!

There is something intimate in touch, and our culture has said that it’s just not right to see men acting in that way. In the middle east and Asia you can see men walking down the street holding hands. They aren’t lovers – they are simply relative or close friends who are connected to each other. Everyone who sees them knows that to mess with one means taking them both on. Touch communicates intimacy and connection. So it’s a big deal when the spiritual leaders of God’s people said that unclean people had to remain outside of populated areas. It’s an even bigger deal when someone decides to break these taboos! One time, as Jesus was walking along:

A leper came to him, begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)

This is the attitude most people have with diseased people. No touchy! Stay away. I’d rather not come into contact with you. And here this man with some sort of skin disease approaches Jesus. You can just imagine the horror on the faces of the original audience 1900 years ago…. “So a leper came to Jesus….” “What!?!? Oh, no he didn’t!” It’s shocking. He should know better.

But still he comes to Jesus. And he’s got nerve. “If you wish, you can make me clean,” he says. Skin diseases can be serious things. They aren’t easily cured. Years ago I had a skin condition that I could not identify. I was red, splotchy, and itchy. It freaked some people out to look at me or be near me. They kind of kept their distance. Even one of the doctors I went to walked in the room and looked at me from afar. Then he took me to the dermatologist who diagnosed me in 10 seconds (don’t worry, I’m fine!). Not even my doctor wanted to get to close without knowing what was going on! Rabbinic opinion stated that it is as difficult to cleanse a leper as to raise the dead! Good thing this leper came to the right guy!

The amazing part of this story is not that the man with a skin disease came to Jesus. The amazing part is Jesus’ response. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the diseased man. And immediately the man became clean. Here’s the neat thing – Jesus doesn’t become unclean by touching the leper; the leper becomes clean by Jesus’ touch. The filth that is in one person does not stick to others, nor does outward uncleanness defile people who are clean of heart. So [Jesus] touches him in his untouchability.

If Jesus doesn’t blink before touching a scabby, diseased man, how does Jesus look upon me? We’re all untouchable in some way. None of us is perfect. The apostle Paul admits that when he says, “It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already become perfect. But I keep pursuing it, hoping somehow to embrace it just as I have been embraced by Christ Jesus.” So there is something in all of us that appears untouchable to others. We struggle with addiction. We struggle with past sexual abuse. We struggle with slander. We struggle with impurities of every kind that, if people could see the real us, would keep others far off at a distance. We would live away from others and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and touches us in our untouchability.

In the Gospel of Mark this healed man is the very first missionary! Should we be quiet about Jesus? No. When Jesus touches us in our uncleanness the only appropriate response is to go out and tell others! When was the last time God touched you? When was the last time you told someone else about God touching you?

After the healed man went back into town and told about what happened, so many people swamped Jesus that Jesus wasn’t able to go into town any more. There’s an ironic reversal between Jesus and the diseased man. Initially, the man is forced on the outskirts and Jesus can travel in and through the towns. Then Jesus touches and cleans the man and the man can now go into town and Jesus is forced to stay on the outskirts because of the mobs of people and has to remain in the deserted places.

Similarly, Jesus has done a role reversal with us – he has taken our place on the cross. The disease of sin that would have been our undoing is now undone as he takes it on himself. This is the good news that we need to be sharing with others! “Hey, Jesus touched me! Let me take you to the foot of the cross so he can touch you too!”

There’s an old Gaither song that goes, “He touched me, oh, he touched me. And oh, the joy that floods my soul. Something happened and now I know, he touched me and made me whole.” Are you willing to let others know how God has touched your life?

Anger and Forgiveness Part II: Steps Towards Forgiving

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday in Part I we talked about giving people the benefit of the doubt and looking beyond our initial emotional response to anger and offense. But sometimes people go beyond the benefit of the doubt and actually do something that causes legitimate pain. Take Joseph, for example… (GENESIS 37-45)

– Joseph is one of the youngest with 10 older half-brothers
– They plan to kill him, but the oldest convinces the others simply to throw Joseph in a pit
– They end up selling him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt
– Joseph becomes a slave to Potiphar but is a hard worker and trustworthy – soon Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the entire estate
– Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for Joseph but he won’t betray his master’s trust or sin against God, so she has a temper tantrum and falsely accuses him of attempted rape
– Joseph goes to prison (no DNA evidence available to exonerate him) and while in prison

If there’s anyone who has reason to seek vengeance and hold on to resentment it would be Joseph. But forgiveness is the letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. It involves a willful decision to restructure thought life and cognitions regarding the offender and the offense.

Divine forgiveness and forgiveness between humans are central themes at the heart of biblical faith (Ps. 51:1-2; Matt. 6: 12-15).

GRACE-FILLED FORGIVENESS and the non-remembrance of offenses are scandalous, especially when extended to vile evildoers. We often feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance towards bad people – those who really wound us deeply.

If I were Joseph I would probably have a serious grudge against the brothers who sold me away. Yet Joseph is the agent of God’s grace and kindness towards his brothers. They were to take a long time – and this is often the case even for us today – to appreciate and to fully receive the transforming loving-kindness of the Lord into the very depth of their beings. Joseph understood that beyond and above the foul schemings of his brothers, God was in control. It is the Lord himself that gives and reveals the ultimate and true meaning to history.

To forgive is to offer mercy to someone who has acted unjustly.

Grace in the Bible can also mean “favor” as in “find favor in his eyes” – the word occurs 101 times in Paul’s letters alone… In the Bible, forgiveness is primarily the act of God by which he graciously takes away the obstacles or barriers which separate man from His presence.

The New Testament word for forgiveness means “to send away.” Forgiveness does not excuse or minimize the hurtfulness of the other person’s act. Rather, it says, “Yes, you did a hurtful things to me. You did wrong.” But forgiveness is then acting mercifully and saying, “I choose not to hold that against you. I am sending away that grievance.”

We often have difficulties in forgiving others. Sometimes we think we have forgiven when we really haven’t. Sometimes we think that, to forgive, we must forget and act as if the hurt never happened. Offenses are not forgotten, but when forgiven they should not be brought up again. Other times we think we can forgive only after the person has suffered or made restitution. Revenge requires suffering and restitution, not forgiveness.

Letting go of the right for revenge has real benefits. It can lower blood pressure, reduce free-floating hostility associated with elevated cardiovascular problems, help you feel less stressed, fearful or depressed, and restore you spiritually to a better relationship with the Lord. When the Bible talks about forgiveness it’s not just about restoring relationships between people, it’s not just about modeling God’s behavior (the One who forgave us even when we didn’t deserve it) – it’s also about our OWN well-being.

Whatever you’ve been holding on to – it’s time to let it go. It’s time to let go of the need for vengeance and justice. It’s time to choose not to hold things against people, even if you’ve been wounded deeply.

So how can you start? First, ask God to remove the anger associated with the hurt. He can bring healing and forgiveness even when you don’t think it’s possible. Keep talking to God about it. Then there are three practical things you can do to start the process of letting go and forgiving people:

1) Write a hurting letter, listing how the person hurt you and how the hurts affected you – Read the letter to an empty chair where you cannot be overheard
2) Write a forgiveness letter – Read that letter to an empty chair
3) Destroy both letters as a symbol of releasing you pain and anger

Hate, anger, and unforgiveness will eat us up from the inside out if we don’t release it. It sucks the joy out of life.

It’s time to live a joy-filled life, and that means walking in forgiveness.

Related Posts:
Anger and Forgiveness Part I: Learning to Give the Benefit of the Doubt
Learning How to Forgive

Reflections on 9/11: Can We Find a Way Forward?

we will not fear, though the earth should change
we will not fear, though the earth should change

September 11 is a strange time for Americans. It’s a day where we lump together a bunch of emotions and attitudes into one big kettle: loss, grief, sorrow, anger, self-righteousness, racism, vengeance, patriotism…and that just to name a few.

It was an event that shook America to its core. It’s one of those events where everyone remembers where he was and what he was doing when it happened. It was an event that forever altered reality.

On the anniversary of that day I want to reflect on some issues.

First: This is a time to remember those we lost. Nearly 3000 people died. The ripple effects of those lives is huge. It is appropriate to think of those people, to mourn our loss at their untimely passing. I was once asked if it was selfish to grieve over the loss of a loved one. I wouldn’t call it selfish – I would call it human. We build bonds and attachments with people. It is normal to feel pain at having people taken away. But yes, grief focuses on personal loss and not on the final destination of the other.

Second: This is a time to turn to God. In the midst of that tragedy God provided comfort that no one else could. The psalmist writes:

God is our shelter and our strength. When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help. So why run and hide? No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.

When the earth spins out of control,
     we are sure and fearless.
When mountains crumble and waters run wild,
     we are sure and fearless.
Even in the heavy winds and huge waves, or as the mountains shake,
     we are sure and fearless.

Trouble is on the horizon for the outside nations, not long until kingdoms will fall;
    God’s voice thunders and the earth shakes.
You know the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies, surrounds us and protects us;
    the True God of Jacob is our shelter, close to His heart.

(Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7)

The earth definitely changed on 9/11. And this song, written thousands of years ago, is still as appropriate today as it ever was. We who believe have a reason for peace – even in the middle of chaos. We who believe have a Power greater than any other power on which we can depend. When the world is falling down around us we turn to Him and find hope. We find comfort. We find peace.

Third: This is NOT a time to embrace hatred and racism. Over the last 15 years I’ve seen many Americans speak and behave as though 9/11 gives us freedom to hate, belittle, or discriminate against people of Middle Eastern descent. Let it not be so. It is wrong direct our anger towards Middle Eastern people. Over the years since 9/11 I’ve heard many derogatory comments about Arabs. Racism in any form is NEVER okay. It really doesn’t matter what you feel the other ethnic group has done – no group is so monolithic that you can fault all for the actions of a few. Would you lump Arab Christians into your hatred? It’s just stupid. Let’s fault the bad guys and not lump others in simply because of their ethnic group. It’s poor logic. It’s the logic that looks at the Charles Manson “family” and hypothesize that all white people are cult-following murderers. So let’s drop the racist element from 9/11, huh? No more “Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out” attitudes.

Fourth: As difficult as it might be, for our own sake we need to practice forgiveness. We forgive others because we are people who have been forgiven. Jesus himself taught us to pray:

“And forgive us our debts, as also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness does not seek vengeance. We do need to seek justice for wrongs. One of the roles of government is to hold people accountable for wrong doing. But as individuals we can let go of the idea of vengeance and move forward in forgiveness. Because let’s be honest…a lot of our mentality (not just from politicians and military leaders but from civilians as well) regarding the “war on terror” has been about vengeance, not simply justice. It’s not our place to avenge.

Let’s be people of justice.

Let’s be people of peace.

Let’s be people of forgiveness.

It’s the only real way forward.

Related Posts:
~ Patriotism Vs. Faith
~ Learning How to Forgive
~ Spread the Love: Making 9/11 a Day of Forgiveness

Muslims, Murder, & Forgiveness

Love – Forgive - Live

If you haven’t heard by now Nidal Hasan, the Soldier who murdered 13 people and injured dozens others in a mass shooting back in 2009, was finally convicted – found guilty of premeditated murder. You can read about it here. I wanted to take a few minutes to respond because I believe how Christians respond is important.

It will be very easy to let our response focus on the murderer’s religion. He is a Muslim. His shooting spree seemed (at least in part) to be motivated by a reaction to American involvement in Muslim nations overseas. Prosecutors claim Hasan believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many Soldiers as possible. He also yelled, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great in Arabic) before opening fire on innocents. Yes, there seems to be a strong connection to his Islamic faith.

I know that there will be many individuals (and conservative talking heads) who will want to point out that Islam is not compatible with the West and will always be opposed to Democracy. I’ve heard the arguments that Islam will never truly be peaceful towards Christianity. It is easy to lump all Muslims into a single category. It’s almost a natural reaction because we’ve been at war in Muslim nations for so long. Americans been attacked at home and abroad by Muslims. And I will be totally honest here – I also believe that in the big picture Islam will never be at peace with Christianity.

I do not believe, however, that we can demonize all individuals because of the actions of others. I do not want to lumped together with “Christians” from Westboro Baptist Church. Hasan is Muslim, yes, but he acted alone. The tendency will be to look sideways at all Muslims (indeed, all brown-skinned foreigners) as if any of them, at any moment, might open fire. But let’s not jump to that extreme. Before you know it we’ll be creating internment camps for anyone who is “other than.”

Let’s remember that sick individuals do sick things all the time without greater ties to worldwide movements. When a white teenager opens fire on a movie theater we don’t go around acting suspiciously of all white teens (well, maybe some people do, but in general I think not!). Jump off the bandwagon and turn off Fair and Balanced news outlets and use common sense. Messed up people do messed up things. Don’t fly off the handle – Hasan admitted to the shooting and was found guilty. He will pay – possibly with his life.

From a biblical point of view we need to consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Romans 12:14,17a)

Nidal Hasan committed atrocious acts of evil against dozens of people. There is no excuse. There is no justification. But God calls the faithful to live a different way – without seeking to do damage to the offender, God calls us to bless and to avoid vengeance. We are to pursue forgiveness, in spite of what people do to us. It’s hard to even talk about, much less to live out. Like the Matthew West song says:

It’s the hardest thing to give away, it’s the last thing on your mind today – it always goes to those who don’t deserve – – -forgiveness

There will be hours of talk radio and news reports filled with stories, speculation, and judgments against Nidal Hasan. He will get what is coming to him. Even if you think his earthly punishment is not severe enough we can rest knowing that all of us will one day stand before the Creator of the Universe and give an account for our behavior here on earth. Hasan will. I will. You will, too.

So let’s not focus on hatred and fear and loathing of this sick and evil man. Let’s turn those emotions over to God. If you have to direct your focus anywhere, grieve and mourn with the families that are suffering loss because of this man’s actions. Love on the survivors.

Forgive.

Live.

Forbidden Love

Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Love can be wonderful thing. Except when we love the wrong people ~ when we love forbidden people. Ooh, taboo love. Forbidden romance. It’s so exciting! Well, not always exciting. For the couple it can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Sometimes parents frown on their children becoming romantically involved with people from a lower social class. I want to tell you a story today of forbidden love, of two opposed families. It’s like the story of Romeo and Juliet…but from the Bible. What, you didn’t think Shakespeare made up that story by himself, did you? It’s a timeless tale. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy woos girl. Girl is swept off her feet. Girl’s family disapproves of boy. Girl’s family massacres boy’s family…. You know – the usual.

Of course, that’s the story that ever father of a girl likes to hear! Keep away from my daughter. When I first met my father-in-law he pulled me aside and told me, “I sleep with a knife above my head and a gun under the bed.”

The story is from the Old Testament. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob. Her mother is Leah. Leah wasn’t Jacob’s favorite wife, so Dinah probably wasn’t his favorite child. But she is part of Jacob’s household. Jacob’s household has been doing a lot of traveling lately. They’ve been in hiding from Esau because Jacob thought Esau was gonna kill him. But wouldn’t you know it, Jacob and Esau reconnect and there’s forgiveness and restoration. And now the family is ready to settle down in Canaan, the land of promise. After making camp Dinah decides to go out to visit with the women of the area. And then, as she’s walking along in the midst of the crowd, she’s seen by the prince. And the prince’s heart skips a beat. It like something right out of a musical.

Prince Shechem sees Dinah and before you know it, they become intimate. Shechem has received a lot of bad press in the past. Many people have accused him of raping Dinah. In fact, many English Bibles title this chapter, THE RAPE OF DINAH. But the subheadings and titles are not part of the original Bible, there were added in hundreds of years later to assist us in reading. There is nothing inspired about the titles or subheadings.

This is how the story goes: Shechem saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and humiliated her. The taking does not mean by force. It is symbolic language, and it is the same expression used to describe taking a husband or taking a wife. It is the same expression used later on in this story when Shechem and his father are trying to convince the Israelites to be part of the community and take wives for themselves. There is nothing violent necessarily implied. Understanding Hebrew and ancient near eastern culture puts it in a different perspective.

Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman was not perceived in romantic or spiritual terms, but in terms of its keeping the family and bloodline alive. The idea of sex being dirty or casual is out of the question. The importance of the individual lies in the continuation of the group, which depends on proper sexual intercourse—that is, proper use of sexual power. That sexual power is used to prevent intrusions that pollute the family that represent loss of strength. Keep it in the family. Keep the tribe strong. If you step outside what is socially permitted then you bring shame, dishonor, and humiliation upon the whole group.

By romantically linking with an outsider, Dinah was diluting the family bloodline and opening them up to weakness. This is her shame, her humiliation. It’s a similar situation as that found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, where a man finds and takes an unbonded or unattached young woman and lies with her. There is no cry for help from the woman and no violence on the part of the man. There is voluntary sexual intercourse between two unbonded people, but with no prospect of bonding and obligation. This, too, does not qualify as rape. In fact, the man has touched the heart of the woman, as Shechem does to Dinah.

But there is no request for future bonding, and therefore, he has humiliated her. To erase the shame and establish bonding, the man is obligated to give the father of the young woman fifty pieces of silver as a bride gift, to marry her and never divorce her. Despite the fact that there is no rape, the sexual intercourse between these two people is shameful and we see that same expression about humiliation as we see in Dinah’s story. She has not represented the family the right way. This story doesn’t talk about a rape – it talks about two people who fall in love, but the girl’s family sees the union as dishonorable. This is about honor, pride, and family shame.

The storyteller tells us more about the romance:

Shechem’s soul cleaved unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl, and spoke to the heart of the girl. And Shechem spoke unto his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

All of the expressions in this verse are terms of affection. They are terms of courtship and marriage. Where else do we find that expression, “to cleave” in the Old Testament? Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and CLEAVE to his wife.” Cleave means to be bonded to. And the last expression— “to speak to the heart of” — indicates both Shechem’s action and Dinah’s positive response. This isn’t about the violence of rape. This is about forbidden love and family pride. And Shechem wants to follow through and do things honorably, so he and his father go to Jacob to negotiate the bride price, the dowry, for Dinah. This is actually keeping in line with the law later given in Deuteronomy.

And Shechem and his father ask for the hand of Dinah and, with the marriage, a unification of the two tribes. When kings or princes take wives, it can be for political alliance and economic cooperation as well as mutual attraction and love, so it is a public affair. Hamor, Shechem’s father, puts his emphasis on ‘uniting’, which is spoken of in terms of mutual marriages that will create a bonding between the two groups, to the advantage of both parties. It’s very much like the arranged marriages in the Middle Ages between England, France, Germany, and Spain. King such-and-such gives his daughter to the son of king such-and-such and there is an alliance and general friendliness between the people groups. Shechem wants Dinah; his father is trying to make it a win-win for everyone. “Come, let’s let our children marry! Then we will be united as allies, you can give us your women to marry, you can take ours to marry, trade will increase, and all will benefit.” As for the bride price, the dowry, Shechem is willing to pay dearly, for he loves Dinah with every fiber of his being.

But Dinah’s brothers won’t stand for it. In their eyes, they have been wronged by this outsider. Their honor and pride have been damaged, and nothing would allow them to get over the dishonor. Their sense of injury is of injury to themselves, not Dinah. They don’t care about her as much as they do about themselves and the standing of their family. So they agree to let Dinah marry IF, and ONLY IF, all of the males of the tribe agree to be circumcised. Anything less would be a disgrace.

I would think that right there would be enough to make Shechem say, “I love the girl, but maybe I should look for someone new.” But he’s so taken with Dinah that he agrees. Not only does he agree, but he goes and sells the notion to all of the men in their tribe. This guy should be salesman of the year! SALESMANAnd three days later, while the men are still in pain, Dinah’s brothers go into town and kill every male and capture every woman and child AND make off with the livestock. And they got Dinah from Shechem’s house and brought her back home. It’s an even more tragic ending than Shakespeare could come up with for the Montagues and Capulets. Deceit, fraud, murder, thievery…where does it end?

This is where Jacob steps up to his sons and says, “What have you done?!? Your behavior has made me a stench to the people of this land!” And their only response is, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” But it is their words, their point of view, not the actions of Shechem, turn their sister into a prostitute. What they really mean is that their honor cannot be bought—which means that no restitution to Dinah herself is satisfactory. The injury is an injury to them and they seek revenge. By saying that Dinah has become like a harlot, the sons of Jacob show that they do not regard Dinah as having been raped. Instead, they are pointing to the fact that she has become a marginal figure by engaging in sexual activity outside her society and without the possibility of bonding, since the sons are unwilling to give their sister to an uncircumcised outsider. For them the relationship threatens the unity of the tribe. It is to this threat that the sons react.

Ironically, if there is a rape in this story, it is Simeon and Levi who ‘rape’ the Shechemites. It is their behavior that is violent and hostile, carried out for the purpose of exploitation. It creates the illusion of dominance, control and superiority, in order to silence their feelings of vulnerability and inferiority. What could have been a beautiful relationship, a loving relationship, is destroyed by honor and shame. It is destroyed by pride and lack of grace and forgiveness.

This story speaks so strongly across the years because the message remains true. What is good, what is lovely, is destroyed by pride. Destroyed by misplaced honor. Destroyed by placing personal agendas above other people. This happens today all the time. Think about the last time you were really offended. Think about who it was that offended you, and what they did that offended you. Know that being in relationships with people and organizations means that every once in a while you might get offended by something. It’s inevitable. Most of the time the offense is not intentional. Did Shechem mean to offend Dinah’s brothers? Heck no! He simply fell in love with a pretty girl. The question is this: How will you respond when that offense comes?

We could be like Dinah’s brothers. Nothing will assuage our anger! We can’t be calmed down! We’ve been wronged! That just isn’t right! Or we can look to see how Jesus handled offense.

Luke 17:3-4 ~ “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4″And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Or how about Matthew 18:21-22 ~ 21

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give up your coat. Jesus’ method of dealing with offense brings forgiveness and restoration. Dinah’s brother’s method of dealing with offense brings slaughter, bloodshed, and hurt. I think we can all agree that it’s easier said than done, forgiving and letting go of an offense. But too often we see people in the church dealing with offense in the wrong way. What? I can’t believe I’m being treated this way! This just isn’t right! I’ve been wronged! And we go on a destructive rampage. This isn’t the Christian method. It’s being Dinah’s brothers. Think again to some grievances you have with people or groups. Are you willing to turn the cheek, walk the mile, forgive another 70 times?

Or are you ready for blood?

If You’re Lost and Feeling Far Away…

Come Home
Come Home

Think about a time when you were away from home for an extended period. You don’t have your own bed. You don’t have your own food. You don’t have your own bathroom. You don’t have all of the things that make up what you know as “home.” After a while you really being to long for home. I experienced this a little while back when I was activated with the Army. Three months living in Army housing, not being able to kiss my wife and play with my kids, not being with all of the comfort that comes with being home is a hard thing to do. But there is nothing like the feeling of returning home, of coming back to where you belong! The Bible talks about returning to where we belong.

In the book of Joel, the prophet addresses Israel in the midst of crisis. A horrible plague of locusts is devastating the land and Joel attributes the locusts to a spiritual cause. His message to Israel is that it is time to return to God. It is time to come home to where we belong.

12 Even now—this is the LORD’s declaration—turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, so you can offer grain and wine to the LORD your God. 15 Blow the horn in Zion! Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly. 16 Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even those nursing at the breast. Let the groom leave his bedroom, and the bride her honeymoon chamber. 17 Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say: “Have pity on Your people, LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17)

I believe God is pointing us towards home today. I believe that, no matter who we are or where we are, God wants us to move back home. He wants us to come back to where we belong. And Joel gives us three directives that reach out to us wherever we are. First, Joel tells us that It’s Never Too Late to Come Home. Look again at verse 12: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning….” English translations miss the force of the Hebrew in the opening phrase “even now.” It is a strong adversative, a big “but” that cancels out and makes conditional the chaos of the Day of the Lord that the prophet just talked about. The locusts have ravaged Israel. The end is coming and is even in sight because Israel strayed from God’s path. But….even now…. “Come home,” is God’s cry. What none could have hoped or believed possible, God still invites you to the hope of salvation. God is signaling the possibility of a reversal of our sinful fortunes.

Sometimes we feel that we have strayed too far from God to ever return to Him. How could he let us back in the Kingdom? “Don’t you know what I’ve done? Don’t you see the chaos and damage in my life?” But, like His call to Israel, God beckons us to return. If we allow God to change us then we can escape the final judgment. If we allow God to change us then we can see the reversal of the devastation of sin in our lives. It is never to late to come home.

Second, Joel tells us that Returning to God Requires More Than an Outward Show – it Takes an Inward Change. Look again at verse 13: “And rend your heart and not your garments, Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil.” Let there be the inward sorrow of heart, and not the mere outward manifestation of it by “rending the garment” When God led Israel through the conquest of Canaan, Israel lost a battle at Ai because of the greed and sin of Achan. Joshua did not know why they lost the battle and so showed an outward sign of humility and sorrow before God.

Sometimes, though, we go through outward shows of humility and repentance but we do not let that condition become a condition of our hearts! God doesn’t want an empty show, but a sincere turning of our hearts and lives. Turning towards God must be more than skin deep. I would venture to guess that all of us, at one time or another, have expressed sorrow but didn’t really mean it. If the heart is centered on God, faith and obedience will follow, for what comes out of the heart determines the whole manner of life. This is what Jesus talks about in the Gospel of Mark.

Where is your heart today?

The description of God in this verse (gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, etc.) is an ancient creed, showing up 8 times in the OT (also in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, 2 Psalms, Jonah, and Nahum). Loving kindness is a translation of the Hebrew hesed – it has more the idea of action based on relationship. It is God’s action towards man because of the covenant relationship. If these are the characteristics of God, we should strive to make these our characteristics too! God has the right to punish, yet he offers grace, compassion, etc.

Joel’s final comment to us is that, when we come back to God, we need to Go Big or Go Home!. Look again at verse 15-17 ~ “Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants, Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber….” Joel calls for a big deal in the return of Israel. Blow the horn. Announce. Gather the people. Weep before the Lord. These are strong words regarding gathering an entire nation together to mourn, weep, and repent! Israel needs to go big in its return.

To be sanctified is to be set apart for the purposes of God. The assembly isn’t only to relieve the people of the suffering under the plague, but to bring about God’s purposes for them. This isn’t about an insecure God protecting a shaky reputation. The sole purpose of Israel’s life (and ours) is to glorify God. When our lives are preserved and transformed, God’s power and mercy are magnified before the world.

It is never too late to come home. Returning to God requires more than an outward show – it takes an inward change. Finally, go big or go home. This is God’s call to Israel through the prophet Joel. This is God’s call to us in the midst of our own lives! In Luke 15, Jesus tells people a story about a lost son who finds his way home. And the son’s father, upon seeing the son walking home, rushes out to greet the boy and welcome him back. Our heavenly Father is no less excited and waiting expectantly for us to turn our backs to the world and begin walking home! Examine you life. How much chaos is there? Where have the locusts of sin and self left you barren and suffering? How has the spiritual drought left you thirsty and hungry for something more, for something real? God is waiting for you to come home. The entire point of the cross is so that you and I can be reconciled to God! Embrace the cross. Chris Tomlin writes in his song “Come Home Running,”

So come home running, His arms are open wide, His name is Jesus – He understands, He is the answer you are looking for, so come home running just as you are.

It’s never too late to go home…

Learning How to Forgive

Now more than ever it seems that forgiveness is an area in which we all need improvement. Sometimes people do things to us intentionally to hurt or wound us. Other times the offense is not intended but damages nonetheless. When we are hurt our response is often to hold on to the grievance. It fuels our anger and animosity towards others. We often forget that we have the same ability and inclination to wound others. It’s easier to forgive our own sin and failure than to forgive others who wound us. This was part of the point of Jesus telling us to “remove the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” We live in a “BUT THEY…” culture. Jesus says, “Forgive,” and we respond, “BUT THEY…!” We prefer the hurt over the healing and the forgiveness. We demand justice before we will even entertain the thought of forgiveness.

But the Bible doesn’t place any limitations or restrictions on forgiveness. There’s no tally we keep and, once we reach a certain point, refuse to extend forgiveness any more. Forgiveness is an attitude – something that can be extended even before the offender asks. It can be extended even if the offender NEVER asks. Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, not because they deserved it, but because forgiveness is part of God’s character.

Real forgiveness, then, is what we ought to seek. Real forgiveness lets go of the right to get even or pursue justice and instead extends compassion and love. Real forgiveness is not deserved or earned – it is a gift from the one who is hurt to the one who does the hurting. The Apostle Paul writes: Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:19). We can forgive and leave payment up to God. He frees us to love. Forgiveness fosters love. Refusing forgiveness fosters hate.

But we don’t forgive because it’s the nice thing to do. We forgive because it is God’s nature to forgive. As we seek to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to be letting his nature become our nature. Paul writes again, “Accept one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Colossians 3:13). And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness wasn’t earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God showed us his love in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. We were broken and messed up and he chose to extend love and forgiveness.

It doesn’t end there. Extending or withholding forgiveness can affect our relationship with God. Jesus says, “If you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Tough words to live by, but I didn’t make them up. God calls us to live in forgiveness and reconciliation if we want to have a healthy and vibrant relationship with Him.

Ultimately, forgiveness brings freedom. It allows us to have healthy lives. It opens the door to reconciliation and makes for richer relationships. Our world is being torn apart by hate, hurt, and an unwillingness to forgive. As Christians we can set the example for the way God calls us to live – we can extend love and forgiveness, even when people don’t deserve it. It’s the only way forward.

How about you? Do you have any experience being forgiven by someone else even when you didn’t deserve it?

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