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Forgiveness

Can We Please Ignore Our Racist Past?

I didn’t think I was being controversial. I wasn’t trying to be inflammatory. But this past week I saw a video that gave the statistics of the top 10 lynching states over a span of 8 decades. I shared the video on my Facebook page and added the message:

2,751 confirmed lynchings over 8 decades in ONLY 10 states. There’s NO WAY the Civil Rights Movement can undo all of the damage to race-relations. We have a lot of work to do…

Here’s the video…

While everyone who saw it agreed that the content was horrific, a couple people chastised me for sharing it, saying that I was stoking the fires of hate and that I should allow people to forget and move on. One said:

Absolutely disgusting….and tell me what purpose you serve in playing a video like this? Show me in the Bible what you are teaching? Sometimes I wonder what it is that you are trying to do with your posts…inspire people to be led to God or be inspired to be led by hate…

And another:

[D]welling on it is like not forgiving. How long can we live the sins of some one else’s father. I grew up in Atlanta, in the 70’s. I remember the bitterness. It was still there. Did it help, in moving forward with change, to bring up things, like lynchings? No. It just stirs up strife. The Bible talks about moving forward. Let’s follow what it says, instead of beating ourselves up in the 21st century, for things that happened over a hundred years ago.

I was astounded that people I know to be Christians would rather ignore the past than to deal with it. It’s not even as though this issue was long since over. This was still happening 49 years ago. It’s NOT ancient history. In Matthew 18, Jesus’s own model for resolving conflict when someone sins against you is to deal with it – not to simply bury it or sweep it under the rug. How do you plan to help reconcile people if you never address wrongs that were done?

“My husband had an affair on me!”

“Yes, but that was last week. Don’t dwell on it. Move on.”

ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!

Remember when Jonah was on his way to rebuke Nineveh and God said, “You know what, that’s in the past. Let’s just let it go and move on. It doesn’t do any good to dwell on old things.”

Yeah, neither do I.

The Bible is literally FILLED with examples of God calling out unrighteous behavior that needs to be changed. Racism is STILL a prevalent problem in our nation, and these sins of the past that some seem to want to forget only ended 49 years ago. People are still alive that witnessed and participated in such behavior. It is ABSOLUTELY okay with God to tell people that this is not righteous behavior/thinking and needs to be fought.

ostrichI care about reconciling people and that doesn’t happen unless we address the wrongs from the past. You can’t bury your head in the sand and move forward in ignorant bliss.

We need to move away from hate, but we need to acknowledge history and the wrongs we have done so we can move forward.

Shining light into darkness makes it harder for people to hide in the dark.


What do you think? Have you heard people advocating for a “forgive and forget” attitude when it comes to America’s racist past? How does this make you feel?

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.

Hello – The Gospel of Adele

hand-977641_1280It’s difficult to go anywhere and not hear Adele. She’s everywhere. The other night my wife and I saw a Target commercial that was simply 60 seconds of the newest Adele music video. Her new hit that’s taking the world by storm is “Hello.”

Hello from the other side
I must’ve called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

The lyrics are rather sad. woman-1006102_1920They are about loss. They are about heartache. They are about a broken relationship. They are about missed opportunities. Those themes resonate with all of us, for we’ve all experienced them in our own way.

In fact, they are actually themes that Jesus speaks to. Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates that his primary passion when it comes to humanity is restoration. From the Garden of Eden to the Book of Revelation, God is in the process of restoring humanity to himself.

But God ALSO cares about restoration when it comes to human relationships! Jesus says:

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Later on Jesus says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother… (Matthew 18:15)

While the second passage is about a Christian model for handling disputes and conflict, these passages show us the basic principle that restoration of broken human relationships matters to Jesus. Instead of letting brokenness win the day, Jesus calls us to be proactive in fixing broken relationships. Integral in the process of restoration is forgiveness, which the Apostle Paul talks about:

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

How we treat each other is important to God. Human relationships are important to God. And that means that we cannot be passive when things are broken. Sorry, Adele, but it’s not enough to wait and call from the other side – to apologize long after the fact.

Be active in reconciling and repairing relationships before it’s too late and the damage is too great.

 

When the KKK Infiltrates Your Church

churchSo there I was talking to another pastor about race issues in the church. He told me about a friend of his (yes, I know that this would never be admissible in a court of law, but it’s just a story, so chill) who was pastoring down south. The pastor was new to the church, and when a black family visited one Sunday the board later asked the pastor what he was going to do about it.

His response? “I’m not going to do anything about it.”

But the family visited again. And the pastor was summoned to a special meeting with the board. Upon entering the meeting, the board members pulled out their wallets and showed the pastor that they were all card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan. ku klux klan

I don’t know how that story ends. That wasn’t the point of our conversation. Our conversation revolved around people who consider themselves to be Christians yet behave in ways that many Christians believe to be contrary to how authentic disciples of Jesus behave.

But here’s the thing: we can’t tell people what they are. Or aren’t. people are allowed to self-identify however they like. Oh, sure, we can tell people that we don’t think their way of doing things fits into the mold, but people don’t usually listen when we try to tell them what they are.

Like an article I saw from not too long ago. A local KKK leader in Virginia claims that the KKK is a Christian organization. They just want to make sure that the white race stays white and isn’t diluted. As he says:

It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.
Yet I would like to think that the majority of Christians in the world recognize that the KKK is NOT a christian organization. It’s not merely about history and heritage.ku klux klan with flag They’ve done some really atrocious things and propagate animosity and hatred towards other human beings.

But here’s the kicker: I think it IS possible for Christians to be card-carrying members of the KKK.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think the KKK is unequivocally evil. But humanity is predisposed to be evil. It’s in our nature. In theological terms we call it sin-nature. Left to our own devices there is no way we can ever achieve heaven – we will simply never be good enough. That’s the whole point of the cross – Jesus paid the price for sin because the price was TOO steep for us ever to pay.

For Christians, that means we’re all a bunch of sinners in the same boat. We’re simply on different places of our spiritual paths. Some of us are farther along than others. Some of us still have a long way to go. But faith in Christ isn’t predicated on a list of rules and behaviors. The Apostle Paul never said, “Give up all your old ways, come to Christ, and then you’ll be saved.” That’s getting the order mixed up.

We come to Christ FIRST. Then our behavior ought to be in an ever-evolving state as we grow in our Christ-likeness. I’m fond of saying:

God loves you as you are, but God does not love the way you are.

As we mature in our faith, the old way SHOULD die out. Can a Klansman be a believer? Sure, just like the Christian-murdering Paul could come to faith. But after Paul started the road of faith HE CHANGED. This is where the rubber meets the road. God loves everyone, but authentic faith brings us to a place where we are no longer the same.

Can the Christian church have Klan members in it? Yes. I would hope it did. Just as I would hope the church would have drug addicts, drug dealers, spouse abusers, porn addicts, tax-evaders, and any other horrible thing you can think of. If the church isn’t reaching sinners then we’re not doing our job.

But the beginning-of-the-journey sinner can’t stay that way. It’s not enough to come to Jesus if we refuse to change. When it comes down to it, though, it’s not our place to force change. We can welcome people and speak the truth as we know it. Then we need to trust God to do the real work of changing hearts. Because my words will most likely never change hearts. That’s not my job – it’s God’s.

That means we should treat people with a whole lotta grace, even when they’re on a different part of the journey than we are. You might have a Klansman in your church. Who knows where God will have him this time next year.

May God be patient with us all as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

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.

She’s Baaaaaack! Look Out, Here Comes Monica Lewinsky

Lewinsky

So it seems dear ol’ Monica Lewinsky is back in the public eye. This time she’s on a mission, setting out to single-handedly finish off cyber-bullying once and for all.

But she’ll never be able to move on. She’ll never leave her past behind and ever be a “normal” public figure (still, are any of us normal?).

It’s not that Ms. Lewinsky wants to stay stuck in her past. She doesn’t. Here’s the problem:

We won’t let her.

She’s going to be the brunt of jokes and off-color remarks for the rest of her life because we, as a society, are going to keep reminding her (and each other) of her past sins and mistakes.

I don’t condone her past behavior, and sometimes the off-color jokes come quickly to us, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Jesus was a big guy on giving people a new lease on life. He met up with a woman once who had been married multiple times and was living with a man to whom she wasn’t married. Jesus didn’t condemn her but used her as an instrument to tell the rest of her town about him.

Another time some religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. This is the famous, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” story of the Bible. Jesus didn’t condemn this woman either. Instead, he sent her on her way with a new lease on life and told her to leave her past behind her.

If we are to take our cue from Jesus, we ought to be in the business of helping people move beyond their past failures and sins and move into a new life where grace and forgiveness abound.

Seriously, who HASN’T done something stupid you wish you had never done in the first place? Yet our humanity likes to force people to wallow in their past failures.

Jesus doesn’t let people wallow. He ushers us into a new tomorrow where the past is forgiven and we get a new chance to be. So, to Ms. Lewinsky and the rest of us who have ever screwed up:

Here’s to forgiven yesterdays and new tomorrows.

If this post resonated with you in any way, please share it. Post it, tweet it, email it – just send it out there somehow.

Thx! 🙂

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

5 Tips on How to Move Towards Forgiveness: Anger and Forgiveness Part I

Image courtesy of sumetho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 
Image courtesy of sumetho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forgiveness is the glue that holds commitment together. Without forgiveness, commitment will unravel and relationships will come apart. The central day-to-day skill of surviving and growing in relationships is reconciliation, and that starts by giving people the benefit of the doubt BEFORE I get offended.

This means if someone ticks me off I have an obligation first to stop, think, and consider if perhaps I am missing one crucial factor. It’s like the woman who was upset at not being invited to her friend’s wedding, and held a grudge for 20 years…until the invitation finally arrived in the mail accompanied by an apology from the Post Office.

More often than not we feel there could not possibly be any excuse or justification for certain behavior and we choose NOT to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s simply easier to become and to stay offended.

But we can grow in our ability. Here are five tips for growing in the grace of giving people the benefit of the doubt:

1.      Assess the irritating situation and your reaction to it. Are you mildly annoyed? Frustrated? Angry? Full of rage? What is really sparking this emotional reaction?

2.      Take a deep breath and do not indulge in your initial reaction. You cannot help your instinctual emotions, but by feeding into them you are escalating the situation and it will be difficult to follow the next steps in giving a person the benefit of the doubt.

3.      Recognize that the person behind the situation is human (just as you are). As humbling as it is, we have all been a cause of annoyance to someone else, we have all had our bad days and we all have our quirks.

4.      Put a story with the person. The story can be as ridiculous or as practical as you want. Are you being tailgated? Maybe the driver is late for his daughter’s first ballet recital. Is the waitress extremely rude? Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her, her rent is past due, and she has been working doubles for the last three days. These probably won’t be the real triggers of their behavior but the point is we never know what is truly going on in someone’s life. I have found it helpful and it distracts me from my emotional reaction. It can be a useful tool or even turned into a game (Are you children in the car? Have them help you come up with possible scenarios for the cause of the offending party’s behavior).

5.      Be patient and kind, regardless of the real story behind the behavior. Is a coworker complaining and snapping at everyone? Try bringing her a card, flowers, or chocolate. In my own experience this goes much further than getting mad at them or gossiping about them. Once again, you never know what is going on in their lives to cause the behavior, even if it’s as little as not getting very much sleep.

If you use kindness instead of retaliating, the situation will not ruin your day or give you a bad attitude. Even if the person does not appreciate your patience right away they very well might in the long-run (and you’ll be one less person getting mad at them, which is always helpful when someone is already having a bad day).

Tomorrow in Part II we’ll look at forgiveness through the eyes of a famous biblical character who experienced extreme betrayal and hurt and look at how we can begin to heal and extend forgiveness to those who have actually damaged us.

Related Posts:
Learning How to Forgive
Muslims, Murder, and Forgiveness

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