Tag Archives: Jesus

Forgiveness

I recently blogged about the possibility of forgiveness as an event. As it happens, I’ve also come across notes that I wrote on this subject a couple of years ago. Here they are with only minor edits for readability.

Forgiveness is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit as an adult. I’m generally an easy going guy, so many offenses roll off of me. It takes a lot to get me angry, but when I get really get angry it can take years to push through. If I were to run into a particular former boss, or an ex-girlfriend I probably wouldn’t come across as easy going. There are a couple of things that are helpful for me to keep in mind though. I do have to remind myself of these things.

First, I’m the one that’s negatively affected by my holding on to the offense. Lack of forgiveness is how people end up becoming bitter & hard hearted. That boss I mentioned laid me off 12 years ago, even if he still remembers there’s no way he’s as upset by it today as I am. I’m the loser here, by holding on to something in the past I’m limiting what I can see right now. Put another way, I’m the greatest benefactor when I forgive.

Second, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness is for my own benefit, to free myself from the animosity of harboring anger towards another. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the other person. I can choose to remain friends with the other person or not, independently of the choice to forgive. If I choose to break the relationship, it doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven them. I have forgiven the ex-girlfriend, but I will not give her another opportunity to hurt me. A really powerful example of this for me is punishment for crimes. Forgiving someone for committing a crime doesn’t mean that they don’t get punishment. If everyone involved, victim, attorneys, judge & jury each forgave them, it would still be appropriate and just for them to receive and serve out a sentence. We don’t forget the crime, but forgiveness releases us from it controlling our thoughts.

Third, forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s more of a process that may need to be repeated. I forgive, gain a sense of peace, then days or weeks later (sometimes years later) I’m somehow reminded of it and my temper flares like it just happened… I have to forgive again, from start to finish all over again. I’ve forgiven both the boss and the girlfriend dozens of times, and yet writing this I’m reminded of the injustice and need to do it again.

My first three points are anecdotal. My fourth & final point is that its part of God’s plan. In Matt 6:14-15 Jesus says that we’ll be forgiven as much as we forgive others, and if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven. Paul exhorts the Colossians to “bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances…” in 3:13. Knowing this, its reasonable to believe that God will help us with forgiveness. In fact I think this is part of His plan, for us to work together in community and learn forgiveness against one another while leaning on Him. I see this as somewhat like exercise, the more we forgive the easier it gets to let go of offenses.

The notable exception to all of this is forgiving God Himself. That’s a category unto its own and I’m probably no help there. I do believe that its appropriate to pray through your relationship with God at all times, even in anger. Forgiving God for perceived offenses is pretty tough. I’ve only dealt with it once and honestly don’t know how I got through it.

If you’re interested in reading about this, try The Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes. This is his 2nd book on the subject and it really helped me during the summer after a particularly difficult layoff. Pay attention to which book you get though, Smedes first book on forgiveness (called Forgive and Forget) was terrible. I didn’t connect with it at all.

I think my third point above (repeatedly forgiving the same offense) needs more exploration. Sometime soon I’ll tie this together with my previous note and reach a conclusion. This is something that I’ve considered for years, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that soon.

Turn Around

Last week I read something that has challenged my thinking. I have had a pamphlet called How to be Free From Bitterness for at least 15 years. A friend called me last week, we were talking about forgiveness so I decided to review this to see if it would be worth sharing. The entire pamphlet is awesome. It covers general forgiveness, relationships with parents, controlling your tongue, and more. I definitely recommend it if you’re struggling with forgiveness. One aspect of it has stuck with me.

Several times through the material, the author (Jim Wilson) encourages the reader to confess their behavior and/or attitude, then forsake the pattern. He paints this as an event. You have confessed and forsaken that, now you’re done with it.

My life is so much more complicated than that. Which strikes me as very lame.

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a bitter person (but, really, who would say that about himself?). I do gripe about day in & day out annoyances. I do get frustrated with the people that I’m close to. I don’t carry grudges and I do strive to keep short accounts with people. Having said that, there are a couple of long standing grievances that I haven’t shaken in years. I don’t mean that I haven’t forgiven (I have). Quite the opposite. I forgive. Something reminds me of the injustice, so I forgive again. Years later they repeat the behavior, so I forgive again.

I have spoken to the parties involved. I have prayed. I have read books. I have forgiven. Then something will trigger this and I start the process over. This has been going on for years. Now, sometimes I bring it up and sometimes I don’t.┬áThis has definitely had an impact on those specific relationships. It’s probably fair to say that this has colored my view of relationships in general.

Wilson invites the reader to a clean slate. Confess then forsake and be free. Turn around and take a new path. I want that.

So the question that I’m wrestling with is, have I allowed my life to become too complicated to recognize freedom that’s available to me?

Fear

Liz is in the middle of training for Ironman Arizona, which means that her Saturday and Sunday mornings are spent training. We hadn’t been in church together for a couple of months. Our friends Joe and Blythe are in the same category, since Joe is training for the same event. We decided to look for a Saturday evening church, and after a lengthy web search found Calvary Austin. We’ve been attending for a couple of months now, and we really like it. Right now they’re spending a year going through the book of John, and I’ve really enjoyed a fresh, in-depth perspective on a book that I know.

One quick comment on Saturday night church, its awesome. Sunday is all yours to play or go out for a big breakfast, and there’s no guilt at all because you already worshiped. Plus, for us, it has made the difference between worshiping together or not. Our couple’s bible study meets on Sunday nights, or we’d be attending The Gathering. I’m really enjoying the Saturday night service.
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Nativity Story

A couple of nights ago my Dad and I decided to get out of the house, so we went to see the Nativity story. He had been talking about it since I arrived, and I assumed that it was a play. It didn’t even occur to me that it might be a movie because I hadn’t heard anything about it. I hadn’t seen any trailers for it, or read any reviews.

Turns out, this is a terrific film. Its exactly what the name implies, the series of events that leads up to Christ’s birth and includes several facets of the story. It starts with Zechariah being told by God himself that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son that will prepare the way for Jesus, and that the child should be called John. It also chronicles the three kings desire to worship who they believe will be the next king, and their journey to find Jesus. And finally, it shows king Herod’s ruthless treatment of anything that he perceives as a threat to his authority.

I was impressed by the breadth of scope in showing the birth of Jesus. I also enjoyed the movie’s pace and simplicity. Those who have accepted Christ as savior will, of course, already know each character and the gist of the story. Character development is compelling, and the plot moves along quickly enough to hold your attention, yet not so fast that you miss the significance of what’s happening. The film itself is unpretentious in its presentation of the material, and while I’m no expert I felt that it was true to scripture.

My Dad and I both enjoyed the Nativity story. As we left the theater I was again struck by the beauty and magnitude of Jesus’ birth. I give it two thumbs up.

Change

Last year I started a progression of blog entries about my theology shifting, and promised to write more about that. Right after that I fell in love with the coolest girl ever and my life has started to change in accordance. Theology couldn’t hold my attention while I was in the throes of young love.

I recently came across SHIFT_theology again, and realized that its a thought progression which is worthy of some consideration. I need to pick that back up.

This ties in nicely with some things in my personal life, too. Early this year I went on a personal retreat to the hillcountry to spend some time in prayer about my life. School had been kicking me in the teeth for about a year, I wasn’t doing well at all. So I had to come to grips with that. And then the part about meeting the coolest girl ever and our future and all that that entails. Life is messy, and I was disconnected.

So you can see, I’ve had some distractions. Something had to change, and I wasn’t finding any answers.

Here’s the main thing, I think. For a long time I thought of Christ, or faith, as something that I *did*. I drive a truck. I eat BBQ. And I worship Christ. And when it was time to worship Christ, I went to church. And while I lived a moral life and was respectful of those around me, Christ wasn’t someone I knew, he was something on my to do list.

Now, I think I had that all wrong. Jesus isn’t a task. My life should not be structured around this set of activities which I ascribe to Him.

So on my retreat I prayed through some stuff. Big stuff, like school and my girlfriend and my career, and how God fits in with all that. I came away with some specific answers to specific questions, which is huge. I think maybe 10% of my prayers are answered, so it was really encouraging and motivating that He chose to answer these prayers.

The result? An amazing thing has happened. Its just overwhelming.

There are the tangible results like me doing well in school and having a great relationship with my girlfriend and not stressing about my finances. But the really good stuff is not tangible. I can’t explain it, other than to say that I’m doing better than I have in maybe 6 or 8 years. I feel more freedom to love the people around me. Life has meaning and wonder again.

I don’t know why God works the way that He does. I’m just glad that I stopped to ponder my life and pray through my priorities. And I would encourage you to do the same.

No Mere Man

I like quotes. Here’s one that struck me:

I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genious? Upon force! Jesus Christ founded His empire on love, and this hour millions of men would die for Him.

Who said it? Napoleon.

Radical Faith

Mel Gibson’s new movie Passion of Christ has been one of this year’s top films (#10 at the time of this writing), and it is arguably the most controversial. Critic’s reviews range from moving to savagery, and user reviews are equally charged. It has sparked arguments among muslims, and it has rekindled the anti-semitic debate as well. The movie has also prompted a number of confessions. It is the confessions that I want to explore here.

After viewing the film, Dan Leach of Texas confessed to murder. Johnny Olsen of Norway confessed to arson. Similarly, Turner Lee Bingham of Arizona confessed to robbery. Each of these cases was cold, so the men were likely to get away with their crime. Each credits the movie prompting them to come forward. Regardless of your personal reaction to the film, these confessions are radical, and deserve our attention. How could a movie prompt this reaction?

The film bills itself as an accurate depiction of the last days of Christ. The story itself, recorded in the new testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, is about Christ’s love. Christ was radical. His ideas about love and faith challenged the people he spoke to, so much that the religious & political leaders of his time wanted to kill him. His ideas are radical enough that 2,000 years after his death we still know enough about him to form a strong opinion about who he was.

And Christ’s love is radical, too. Radical enough that once you experience it, everything else you know pales in comparison. Radical enough to change your life. Radical enough to prompt you to give up your lifestyle, hopes and dreams, so that you can live the life that he has for you. Think about it, if you knew that you were loved deeply, the way you are right now, how would that change who you are?

Why is it so difficult in our day to see or experience this radical, life changing love? Because the church in America is a failure. We can all cite stories of a priest or minister being convicted for some sexual misconduct. More subtly, and possibly more damaging, most who have been part of a church community can share a story of a church being more concerned with new carpet than loving people, or becoming so engrossed in debate that it breaks up. Its easy to find fault with Christianity and religion in America because our religious leaders are leading broken lives like the rest of us. So the argument goes something like, “if God is so loving then how can a pastor / church / christian be so hurtful / destructive / uncaring?” Following that logic, one must come to the conclusion that either God is not real, or God does not care.

Here’s the thing, though. Christ didn’t die to spread religion, or to grow the church. Christ died on the cross to show his love for people. I believe that it was God’s love that prompted Leach, Olsen & Bingham to confess their crimes. They each saw God’s radical, life changing love. They saw the truth about God’s love, which is that his love is complete, unconditional, and healing. Some might say that they were foolish to have confessed, now they’ll have to pay for a crime that they were likely to get away with. I say now they’re free. Free of guilt. Free of hiding from their past. Free to face the penalty for their crime, and move on with their lives. Free to not let their past actions dictate their future behavior.

Perhaps you are hiding from your past. Scripture tells us that all have sinned. How can you tell if you have sinned? You have felt guilty about some past action. Or maybe its less tangible than that. Your life feels like a train wreck in slow motion, you’re aware that something is amiss, but its difficult to pinpoint, and harder to address. You can be free. You can live a radical life, and you can love others radically.

I don’t know what the future holds for these men, or even if they have truly accepted the gift of Christ’s redemptive work. But i do know that you can taste this life changing love for yourself. And the best part is, its a gift, it won’t cost you anything. No service, no good deeds, nothing. You only need to pray, and ask for that gift.