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 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…”

Bible Reading in 2020

Many Christians begin the new year with high hopes of reading God’s Word every day. Some go to great extremes to make sure that everything is in place – the right Bible, the right markers, the write note-taking journal, etc. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart after week one. Life gets busy. We get lazy. Our once bright and shiny resolution finds itself shoved in a corner buried with the dust of our guilt.

Will 2020 be any different? Will you actually finish your Bible reading plan on December 31, 2020? Well… I have no clue. I do know this – if you don’t start, you won’t finish.

To help get you started, here are some helpful downloadable resources –
New Testament Reading Plan
One Year Chronological Bible
One Year Bible Plan
One Book at a Time Plan

In addition, there are a boatload of online reading plans and Bible reading apps, in fact, too many to mention. Here are a few options to search for –
The Bible App for Kids (FREE)
Bible by Life Church (FREE)
Daily Bible Verse (FREE)
Our Daily Bread (FREE)
Olive Tree Bible+ (FREE)

Another option is a podcast by Walk Thru the Bible. Each episode provides a short devotional thought and a guided journey through each day’s Scripture passage. This can be accessed through Apple Podcasts or Google Play. Follow THIS LINK.

Okay… that’s plenty to get your started. You can always ask friends what they use.

Here are a few tips –
Pick a plan. (Make it a reasonable one.)
If you miss a day, don’t quit – just pick up and keep going.
If you miss a few days, don’t quit – keep going.
If you end up missing half a year, don’t quit – keep going.
Read to know God more, not just to know more of God’s Word.

God’s Word is worthy of our time and effort. Let’s do this!

Living the Dream

This past Sunday, I shared Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement. This is the dream that birthed Grace Fellowship in July of 2004, and it is the dream that continues to sustain us as we move forward in faith.

Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement

It is a dream of hurting people encountering the grace of God through the life of His church.

It is a dream of God’s people gathering to experience genuine, life-changing worship.

It is a dream of creating an environment where the unchurched can discover what being a member of the body of Christ really means.

It is a dream of a church with a passion to see the unchurched enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is a dream of a church equipping its members to share the good news of Jesus with the aim of leading the unchurched into a personal relationship with Him.

It is a dream of a church committed to the Great Commission and expressing that commitment by giving generously to missions causes, by actively participating in local and international missions, and by helping to start new churches in areas needing a Christian witness.

It is a dream of a people who fully embrace others regardless of their race, age, or social standing.

It is a dream of the people of Greensboro, Greene County, and the Lake Oconee area being positively affected by the grace of God through the life, ministry, and worship of God’s people.

The best IS yet to come!

Review of KK Original Filled Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Original Filled Doughnuts

I must admit that I did not make it to a Krispy Kreme location on Saturday to get my free Original Filled doughnut as part of KK’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but my good friend Amy Ferman was sweet enough (no pun intended) to pick up one Chocolate Kreme filled and one Original Kreme filled for me (and the same order for my wife). In other words, I ate them a day after they were made — not the ideal taste test, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to either Athens or Milledgeville to get one fresh.

I came home having received the much-prized doughnuts at church. They remained undisturbed on my desk (except for a quick whiff) until I got home. I fixed a pot of coffee, settled into my recliner, and began the test. My verdict = YES! I’m not sure how the doughnut scientists pulled off this culinary masterpiece, but the doughnuts (even a day old) were superb – beyond what I had expected – and I had high expectations.

Admittedly, my doughnuts didn’t exactly match the picture above. I think the Chocolate Kreme filled was closer to the picture and had more filling than the Original Kreme filled, but neither had the perfect ring of filling inside the whole of the doughnut.

My wife asked me after I consumed them both (Original first followed by the Chocolate) which I thought was better. Although I thoroughly enjoyed them both, the Original Kreme was my favorite by far. I’d buy that doughnut every time I stopped in a KK… every – single – time.

If you didn’t try on Saturday, you missed your chance for a free one, but it is worth $1.09 plus tax, and you might was well get a cup coffee or a chocolate milk to make the most of your experience.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from Krispy Kreme (monetary or otherwise) nor am I an official spokesperson for Krispy Kreme -- but I'm open to either. 🙂

When the President Shows Up…

This past Sunday, a church was surprised to have the President of the United States show up during one of their services. David Platt, Pastor Teacher at McLean Bible Church, wrote in a letter to the church about the circumstances of this unusual situation: “At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him. (The complete text of his letter to the church can be found here – https://www.mcleanbible.org/prayer-president )

I admit to you that I have never had this happen to me before! Few pastors have. Certainly, I have had elected government officials attend a service. Unlike the stop-in visit from President Trump, all of those who visited the churches I’ve pastor have stayed for the service. I have typically acknowledged their presence, thanked them for their service, and encouraged the congregation to pray for them, their families, and all our elected leaders. Since these elected leaders are often in the public eye, if they visited more regularly, I try not to highlight their presence to allow them to participate in the service without distractions. I cannot even imagine being told off-stage that THE President was on his way and requesting prayer!!!

With his Bible in his right hand and his left hand on the President’s back, David Platt offered a prayer for Donald Trump. The link above also has a video that shows the entirety of Trump’s appearance and Platt’s prayer. Please take a moment to view it. I think you’ll find that the prayer was politically unbiased, saturated with biblical truth, and fitting to the moment.

I do not know David Platt personally. I have read his books. I have heard him preach in person. I have viewed videos of his teaching. And I supported his efforts while he served as President of the International Mission Board. I respect him as a person, as a brother in Christ, and as a fellow pastor. My impression of what took place this Sunday is that David Platt did exactly what I hope I would do. He successfully avoided making Trump’s appearance a political rally, and offered a thoughtful, meaningful prayer for the leader of the free world — at the request of the President.

This nation is deeply divided in its opinion of our sitting President. Some see him as a man who can do no wrong. Others see him as a man who can do no right. And still others are willing to acknowledge that he’s a human being who is not always right and not always wrong – in other words, he’s a mixed bag like the rest of us – with the exception that he serves in the highest office in the land. Praying for President Trump SHOULD BE what we are doing regularly, just as we should pray for whoever the President is regardless of whether we agree with his or her political stances or not. This is our biblical mandate – “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

You may question President Trump’s motives for dropping in unannounced and requesting prayer. You may believe it to be a calculated tactic to endear himself (or in some cases to further endear himself) to the evangelical community. Perhaps, you’re right; but the criticisms (some of them quite harsh) of David Platt are short-sighted. This was one of those unexpected “opportunities” that pastors often have to face on Sundays, although, admittedly, his was an unexpected opportunity on steroids. He wrote about that in his statement, as well – “Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations.”

His written statement to his congregation has been labeled by some as an apology. He does acknowledge that some may have been hurt by the choice to pray over the President, but he also goes on to state that what he did was non-political and thoroughly biblical. Although my opinion may not rate high, I commend David Platt for doing what he did and how he did it. In my view, he handled it with grace and truth.

If you agree with President Trump’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you disagree with the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you have mixed feelings about the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. But what if you (as many evidently do) have intense feelings of dislike for the man who currently holds the office of President? What if you think he is the embodiment of everything you despise? Well… pray for him. Did not Jesus instruct us to love our enemies and to pray for even those who persecute us?

Being a Follower of Jesus in a Virtual World…

Image from the 1976 movie Network.

Arguments go back and forth on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. The internet is a virtual town square where opinions can be expressed and issues debated. Sadly, this often turns to rage and ranting generously seasoned with foul language and personal attacks.

If you’re a Christian, you can still enter the fray to offer opinions and debate issues, but let us do so as we are guided by God’s Word –

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

It’s okay to debate issues. I’d argue that believers need to enter the public debate on important issues such as sex trafficking, abortion, euthanasia, poverty, immigration, racism, sexual harassment, pornography… the list seems endless. But when we enter the virtual word of Tweets and Facebook posts, let’s enter this world full of “grace and truth.” Let us not use the same sensible discretion when posting that we do when having face to face conversations. Let us remember that rage does not enhance our argument, nor does the use of harsh and abusive language. Why do good judgment and civility seem to disappear when voicing opinions on social media?

Let us be people who reflect the Christ we claim to worship. Yes, there were times when Jesus got angry. Anger itself is not a bad thing. But Jesus’ reputation was not of an angry prophet whose breath smelled of brimstone. We can become angry over issues and injustices. We can state our opinions in person or online. But we must always remember that we are not Jesus. We do not have His insight and understanding. We too often react based on emotions putting both our hearts and minds in suspending animation while we give full vent to our rage.

I leave you with these wise words from James, the brother of Jesus –
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)