Forgiveness Is Hard…

Forgiveness is hard! For some, that may be the world record of understatements. The pain of betrayal, abuse, or unfaithfulness can leave wounds that never seem to fully heal. Because the hurtful memories cannot be forgotten, some don’t want to forgive. They finger their pain like worry beads as they rehash events over and over again, creating an ever-deepening pool of bitterness.

When we forgive, we are not excusing the behavior of another person. Some behaviors are both abhorrent and inexcusable. Some behaviors demand justice, and, sadly, some bad behaviors never receive that justice. Does this mean we are justified to withhold forgiveness? We may feel that way, but when we withhold forgiveness, there is a price pay.

Louis B. Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There is wisdom in those words. By refusing to forgive, we have the mistaken notion that we are hurting our abuser; in reality, we are hurting ourselves. Having been made a victim by the actions of others, we lock ourselves into that role adding chains of our own design.

There are no easy answers here. In fact, it’s hard, really hard. You can’t wish the pain away. You can’t wash away the memories. But there is a price to holding on to the bitterness that comes with unforgiveness – a heavy price. So how do you begin to lay aside the burden?

Admit to having unforgiveness in your heart
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Realize that you’re in a spiritual battle
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Meditate on how great a salvation you have received
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)

Ask God to enable you to do what may now seem impossible.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Jesus, Luke 18:27)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Are you holding on to unforgiveness? Perhaps today you could take the first step to freeing yourself from that heavy load.

Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash

How to Forgive… (part 1)

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This one may take a few posts. Apologizing for something we have done is something most of us can do. Forgiving someone for something they have done to us can be incredibly challenging, so let’s take this slowly. As we begin to address the issue of forgiveness, we might do well to start by considering what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice, and your feelings may not agree with your decision. There may still be anger and hurt, and these feelings may be fully justified. It may take a long time for your feelings to catch up.

Forgiveness is not pretending you are not hurt. In order to truly forgive, you must acknowledge that you are hurt. Sometimes you may feel as if the slight is minor or that the person may not have intended to hurt you, but if you won’t even acknowledge to yourself that you’re hurt, you will end up just stashing the pain and/or disappointment in the junk drawer of your heart. It is easy for bitterness to take root in that kind of environment. Bitterness tends to leak out in passive aggression or an abrasive attitude.

Forgiveness is not putting yourself in line for continuing pain and abuse. Trust is given at first, but when that trust has been betrayed it can take time to rebuild it. I tell couples in pre-marriage counseling that trust is earned by the inch but lost by the mile. If a pattern of inconsiderate or abusive behavior exist, you can forgive while not putting yourself in the position to be mistreated and misused by the other person. Even when an apology is offered and forgiveness is extended, trust must be earned back – if it ever can be.

Forgiveness is not impossible. This may be hard to accept for some of you who have been hurt deeply, but forgiveness is possible. We who have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus need to be awfully careful about withholding forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is an expression of God’s love in us, and Jesus calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). We do not earn forgiveness by forgiving, but we forgive others because we have truly experienced forgiveness from the Father.

Jesus’ words always hit me right between the eyes —

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14,15 (ESV)

Let those words simmer in your soul a while…

How to Apologize…

a·pol·o·gya regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.
(Lexico powered by Oxford)

For most of us, we learn to apologize early in life. It goes something like this – “Tell your sister that you’re sorry.” The response (if there is one) is often a reluctant, “I’m sorry.” Some of us haven’t advanced very far from our preadolescent apologies.

Duke Kwon, pastor of Grace Meridian Hill in the nation’s capital, shared some good thoughts on apologizing via his Twitter account (@dukekwondc). Read this slowly. It can be a great plumbline to evaluate your own efforts at apologizing.

HOW TO APOLOGIZE

  • express sorrow (“I’m sorry”)
  • own guilt (“I was wrong”)
  • name specific wrongs (“I did X”) 
  • name impact (“I hurt you”)
  • no IFs (sorry “if I…”)
  • don’t blameshift/defend (“but you…”)
  • no passive voice (“sorry you were offended”)
  • make amends (“what can I do…”)
    (I made slight changes in this list adding quotation marks, changing “u” to “you” where needed, and adding elipses for clarity)

Very often, “I’m sorry” is just the beginning of repairing the damage. I’ll admit that I have too often thought my apology was the end of the matter. Sometimes it is: Forgiveness and understanding are extended, and the issue is put in the past. More often than not, however, some follow up is essential.

Such follow up may include a genuine expression of remorse over the offense and/or a change of attitude or actions. If the offense was something repeated or was very hurtful, it may take a good bit of time for the offended person to process what happened, sort through all the emotions, and take the initial steps toward forgiveness and restoration. To expect someone to quickly “forgive and forget” can be unrealistic.

It is also important to add that forgiveness can be extended without the relationship simply picking up where it left off. Some actions irreparably damage relationships. A person may forgive another but chose to break off the relationship because of deep or repeated abuse by that person.

Application time — Is there someone to whom you need to apologize today?

Check back for my next post – “How to Forgive…”

Starting a Blog…

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I was asked earlier today by a friend how he could go about starting a blog. Although I’ve been doing this off and on for a while, I haven’t been great at the blogging thing. I don’t have a ton of people who follow the blog, but I do get a few positive comments that keep me coming back. In fact, I made a commitment to do 4-5 blogs each month (approximately one per week).

Having given the whole starting a blog question some thought, I figured it might be good to put my thoughts “out there” in case others were considering doing a blog of their own. So, here goes…

There are a few decisions you’ll want to make as you get started. The first is the kind of blog you want to post. If you look around the internet, you’ll find an abundance of variety. Some people even have multiple blogs because they want more than one platform to discuss or display various topics. I even know one person who has a private blog. It provides a journal-like outlet for her emotions, struggles, and ideas, but the privacy setting means that nobody else is insider her head. Honestly, I’m a little too paranoid for that approach figuring I’d somehow get hacked and end up being totally embarrassed.

Okay, so what kind of blog do you want to create. The possibilities are nearly endless. If you’re into creative writing, you could post your poems or maybe even a short story that you publish chapter by chapter. If you’re a photographer, a blog can be a good place to put your favorite photos. If you travel a lot, then a blog chronicling your adventures might be fun. An artist could use a blog to post pictures of his or her artwork. Have opinions? You find tons of blogs with the express purpose of expressing opinions. Do you love movies or read a lot of books? You can write reviews. So, what’s your idea? I’m now thinking of a blog that does doughnut reviews…

You’ll also need to determine where you’ll host your posts. Some people stick with putting their creative work on something like Facebook. That could work. If you already have “friends” there, then you already have an audience. Facebook is, however, a limited format. I chose WordPress as my platform, but you can do a quick Google search to find many other options. If you use the WordPress.com subdomain, it’s free. If you want your own domain name, you’ll need to secure that separately. It is not too hard – I was able to do it!

Oh… you’ll have a lot of options to format your page no matter which platform you choose. Look through the free options first. You can tell which are graphics-driven and which are text-driven. Pick the one that fits what you’re trying to create. Most of the time you can change fonts and colors to suit your taste.

Alright… you’ve got an idea for a blog. You’ve settled on a platform and determined who will host the repository of your creative genius. What’s next? You need a name. I know you already have a name, but your blog needs one. Think about this. You want something that reflects who you are and what you want to produce. I chose “Transforming Grace” because I am the pastor of Grace Fellowship. I had a ready-made tie-in for that name. I also want my blogs always to be seasoned by grace. Finally, I believe in the transforming power of God’s grace, and I’d love for everyone to experience it, too.

One word of caution — Don’t get overly creative with the name. Seriously, you can really overthink this one. If your name is Bob, you could very easily name it “Bob’s Blog.” The name should match the content.

Your next step could be to accumulate material or ideas. I keep a list of ideas in Evernote. If my well runs dry, I can always go to my list and find something good. I also clip articles from the internet and save those in Evernote. You can use any “container” to save your stuff. The key is to be able to access it when you need it.

Let me mention a word about proofreading. Find someone who can look through your work – before posting preferably! If you wrote it, you’re more apt to overlook errors because you know what you intended to type. By the way, I’m TERRIBLE at this. Once I get something typed up, I want to hit the “publish” button immediately. My wife often corrects me after she’s read it. I think she enjoys that. My sister even got into the act with my last post. You can save your draft and have someone look it over… if you can wait that long!

I’m sure I forgot something important, but I’ll add what I assume is my final point – Get started. It’s the whole “journey of a thousand miles” thing. God is a creative God, and we are made in His image. The internet gives us an opportunity to express that creativity and for others to be blessed by it. I’ll look forward to seeing your creative work out there on the interwebs!

The Power of WITH…

I don’t typically geek out over prepositions. Prepositions are a part of speech we use every day. Of…In…Over…Through…After… the list goes on and on. But after a conversation I had yesterday, it struck me just how powerful the preposition “with” can be.

“With” carries with it connotations of togetherness. “I am not completing this task alone. I am doing it WITH someone else.” There is comfort in the idea of togetherness, brotherhood, camaraderie. Certainly, there are times when we like to be alone or wish to accomplish a task on our own, but “with” means we don’t always have to!

The Bible echoes our need for “with.” If we go back to Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we find God in His creating process. At the end of each creative day, we read, “…and it was good.” Everything God created was good. Then, in the Garden of Eden, God said of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Adam needed “with.”

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, we get another heavy dose of the importance of “with.” Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (ESV) Although the word “with” is not present, the idea of it fills those verses.

We also see Jesus investing Himself in the lives of His disciples. He did more than just show up and give lectures to them five days a week. He spent time with them, going through life, demonstrating His love and power, giving them responsibilities, correcting them, encouraging them, sharing meals with them, laughing and crying with them. In short, Jesus “did life” with them. Could we have a better example of “with”?

Let me encourage you to think about “with.” In your home, be with your spouse, your children, your parents. It’s easy to just zone out watching TV or get caught up in video games or the internet. Value “with.” Intentionally find ways to maximize with-ness in your family.

In your friendships, do the very same thing. Be “with” your friends. Treasure those friendships. Make time for togetherness. It’s may be easier to be a homebody, to spend endless hours streaming Netflix in your pajamas. Certainly, there are times we need to be alone – some more than others – but God created us for “with.”

The power of “with” in church is incredible. To invite someone to come “with” you to church is far more powerful than simply inviting them to church. To ask someone to come and serve “with” you in ministry is far more likely to engage them in service than to simply ask them to perform a ministry task alone. We see the practice of “with” in our small groups, in our fellowship time, in our mission trips, and in service projects in the community. “With” energizes and engages.

I’d be negligent if I did not also mention the power of “with” in our relationship with God. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples what we commonly call “the Great Commission.” Here it is – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“I will be WITH you.” That is the promise of Jesus to every one of His followers. That should not surprise us. Psalm 23 reminds us that God is “with” us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah who was to come (Jesus) would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which the gospel of Matthew tells us means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

We need the presence of God with us. We need the presence of others in our lives. And we need to be present for and with others. They need us! The writer of Hebrews makes this clear – … let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). There is great encouragement with “with,” and separation and discouragement without it.

This week, focus on the power and the blessing of WITH!

Living in Obscurity…

I’ve pastored four churches in my life. None of them have been megachurches. None of them have had a regular attendance of more than 250 in worship each week. I’ve mostly pastored in small towns. The exception to that was a church outside of Savannah, but it was in a smaller community. In other words, I’ve served the Lord in relative obscurity.

It’s true that I did write a book. I just checked. I’m ranked #528,851 on Amazon right now. Now, there are well over a million books in that ranking, so I’m probably in the top half, but my little book didn’t set the world on fire! By the way, it’s still available if you want to help push me up into the 400,000s!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not sending out invitations to my pity party. I’ve learned from the examples of countless others that fame and fortune can come at a very high price. I’m good. I’m reasonably content. And I do believe that God has allowed me to make a difference in every place He has put me. Actually, as I consider it, I’m downright giddy at what He has put in my life… most of the time.

There are, of course, those times when I ask, “Why not me?” Spending a few minutes in the glow of the spotlight can sound appealing from time to time. Maybe I should refrain from such a revealing confession, but the reality is that I (like all of you) have an ego that sometimes jumps up and down and screams for attention. So, when I was reading this morning from Lance Witt’s book “Replenish,” I was comforted by these words. If you ever feel like you live in obscurity, maybe they will speak to you, as well.

Obscurity can be a bitter pill to swallow…

We love to talk about great people of faith who changed their world. Hebrews 11 talks about such people. These great men and women of faith conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, became powerful in battle, routed foreign armies, and even raised the dead to life.

It would be great if the chapter ended there, leaving us inspired by the exponential potential of faith. But there’s a ninety-degree turn in the middle of verse 35, a subtle transition in the word “others.”

Their names are not listed. They will remain historically anonymous. These “others” were still great men and women of faith. In fact, “the world was not worthy of them.” But unlike those who experienced miracles and victory, these “others” were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, and put to death by the sword. They were destitute, often homeless, and they lived in obscurity.

Interestingly, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” None of them received what had been promised. Not yet. Not in this world. Not all of God’s promises had been fulfilled in this life.

But this life is not all there is. For them, their faith hadn’t delivered them from death; their faith caused their death. Their faith didn’t bring them fame; it brought danger. And following Jesus did not bring notoriety; it brought obscurity.

One of the spiritual health questions every ministry leader must answer is, “Am I willing to serve in obscurity?”

Lance Witt, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, pp. 87,88.

If you feel you’re living an obscure, unnoticed life? Then count yourself among the myriad of others both past and present whose devotion went unnoticed by all but God… But isn’t that what ultimately matters?

I Resolve…

Checking-boxes

There is no magic bullet to successfully accomplishing your New Year’s Resolutions, but here is a bit of the wisdom I have gleaned through the years on goal-achievement. One caveat – Knowing and doing are two different things!

Keys to Success in Accomplishing Your Goals:

  • Your goals must be aligned with your values.
  • Your goals can be motivated by fear (running away from) or by vision (running to), but there is greater joy in your journey if you’re running toward your vision.
  • You need accountability to stay on track.
  • You need a system to track progress BUT a good system doesn’t guarantee success.
  • Make sure what you’re investing in is worthy of your time, energy, resources, and heart.