walking in forgiveness

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When I was 10 years old I shared the school bus with a stoutly loud-mouthed bully. He knew just the buttons to push to make me blow: comments about the size of my nose. The other kids on the bus would snicker, mostly because they didn’t want to be his next verbal target. I thought to myself, “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this kid?” I did not have any soap or earplugs, but I did have a plan.

I was as skinny-as-a-toothpick, but I was significantly taller than him by a mere foot, which at 10-years old says a lot. I also watch a lot of batman cartoons. I stood up and stare him down. I could beat a blind man in a staring contest. My plan did not work and I didn’t have a plan-B. I had to think quickly because I could see he was about to take a crack at me. I could turn my other cheek by sitting down in defeat or I could wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged to the back of the bus and gave him a knuckle sandwich. Immediately the bus driver slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver marched to the back, grabbed us both by our shirts and ushered us to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we both pouted as we waited for our parents at the bus barn. Not only did my fists hurt, but my pride took a hit too. And it wasn’t the last time.

Have you felt the cut of a sharp word, been scalded by a heated exchange, or battered by abusive comments? The hurt from these kinds of situations should not be belittled. Nor should you exaggerate your response to these kinds of offenses. The top two responses are, first, hiding the hurt by stewing it into secret places. If you are this type of person you keep your relationships under serious surveillance cautious to not get burned again.

The second response to an offense is like a volcano spewing the hurt back in hell-fury. If you are this type person you pursue payback by inflicting more punishment fitting for the crime hoping your offender feels your pain. Have you ever played the board game Battleship? No one likes getting hit, but we like to do the hitting. This is the reason why many are glued to reality TV shows. They are built on the premise of backstabbing, one-upping, reckoning, and revenge seeking. Now, I am a fan of some reality TV shows too, however, retribution on your terms more than likely turns sinful. Only God can best play the part of God. Only God should take out vengeance.

There is another way since stewing or spewing is not helpful for the one offending or offended. What is the other way? Forgiveness is the only means to unleash an offense. To not forgive in a sense makes you like a dog on chain and your master is the one who has offended you. Forgiveness does not have leashes attached; rather it is a willingness to treat the offense as if it never happened. A mark of new life in Christ is walking in forgiveness [Ephesians 4:24] and Christ is your example [v.32]. Here are four practical truths on how to walk in forgiveness from Paul to the church at Ephesus who like most churches were having relational struggles:

1. Speak the Truth [4:25].

Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies like a leech, especially if you’ve been offended. People would rather risk covering their tracks with a well-choreographed lie, than humbly speaking the truth. Unforgiveness sucks the truth out of people. That is the way of the father of lies [Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44].

There are three roots behind each lie: 1) to get something you want, 2) to enhance who you are, 3) or to protect yourself. And people who do not put off falsehoods will exaggerate by saying, “You always ____. You never _____. Every time I ____, you ____ everything.” Speaking in absolutes is a sign of a liar.  Now truth speakers gather the facts. They never assume anything. They always ask for what is true [cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11; Philippians 2:1-3]. They “speak the truth in love” and the Truth sets free [cf. 4:15; John 8:32].

2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28].

When you “let the sun go down on your anger” you do not deal the situation. Not dealing with anger is not a way of dealing with it. The tendency is to hold off until a better day when it feels right or the timing is right. However, digging up the past should be left to archeologists. And adding time to anger only multiplies the problem, since sin loves to multiply itself with more sin. Unresolved anger leads to the sins of bitterness, rage, and wrath, which can continue to snowball down the mountain until an angry avalanche has left mass devastation.

Question, is all anger sinful? No. For the verse says, “be angry and do not sin.” [cf. Psalm 4:4] God created anger and has a good use for anger. Righteous anger is having a deep seeded conviction about evil [v.27]. In other words, righteous anger doesn’t add time to the situation, it seeks to solve as soon as possible after the offense before unrighteousness sets into the place anger. Those who walk in new life are timely problem solvers.

3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30].

Words can pierce people to their core. Words have caused wars and killed million [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Matthew 5:21-26]. And “corrupting talk” is the means by which we use words to disintegrate others [v.29]. Remember Goliath? He is a biblical example of corrupting talk. He had a big mouth and was all talk, but David championed over Goliath by letting God fight for him. David attacks the problem by trusting in the strength of his God, and God comes through with vengeance upon Goliath’s injustice.

Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve you [Matthew 15:11], but also God [v.30]. Why? Each person is made in the image of God. When you murder another persons character it tarnishes the God who created them [cf. Isaiah 63]. You will have to stand before the throne of God and give an account of how you treat one another. Those who walk in new life in Christ build up, speak grace, rather than tear down what Christ, the Word, came to redeem.

In the book/movie, How to Train a Dragon, Vikings made a living slaying the dragons and the dragons lived to slay Viking villages. The key character Hiccup, a boy Viking, in the story wounds a dragon, but does not have the heart to slay it. Thereafter a friendship between the boy and the dragon begins. What they both come to learn through their friendship is that the slaying between the Vikings and dragons was a misunderstanding. This is also true in the arena of anger—the issue is not the one attacking you, but your self-controlled response to the attack. A gentle answer does turn away wrath, and an attitude of grace can keep you far away from messy misunderstandings.

4. Seek to be Proactive, not Reactive [4:31-32].

It is easy to justify your primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Genesis 3:8-13]. Fire does not put out fire; it just makes a bigger fire. When someone offends you firing back in anger declares the offender as the winner and leash holder. Do not hand over the leash so easily. Replace old reactions with pro-actions. In other words, act—don’t react. Have a Plan-B, C, D, X, Y, and Z.

Fifteen years after the school bus brawl I had another situation occur, but this time it was on a larger scale within my church. Someone raised false accusations against my biblical teaching and in their anger they publicly slandered my character. I was hurt. I was tempted to prove myself right and the other them wrong. No knuckle sandwich this time. Instead, I was convicted to extend forgiveness to the offender as if their offense never happened. It was something I could not do on my own power, but the kindness of the God and the forgiveness that God had given me was used as an instrument in my accusers life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of our powerful God [Romans 12:21].

Walking in forgiveness follows the example of Christ [v.32] by speaking the truth, solving today’s situations today, slaying the problem not the person, and staying proactive not reactive. Walking in forgiveness shines the light of the gospel to an unforgiving world [Luke 6:45], including your marriage, your children, your parents, your friends, your coworkers, your church, and your neighbors.

What is a Christian’s motivation to forgive one another? In Christ, you have the only pure motive to forgive one another and His death paves the way saying, “Forgiveness is available to all!” When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not that He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. He was, in fact, more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God fight for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Isaiah 53:4-12]. Even Jesus’ last words were, “Father, forgive them for them know not what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

God has forgiven your sins as far as the East is from the West. When you don’t extend forgiveness what you are really saying with the hurt or offense done to you is far greater than the offense you have done to God. The comparison is incomparable [Isaiah 55:8-9].

Who do you need to unleash forgiveness to today? Walk in forgiveness.

thumb lick thursday [5.5.11]

What if I have a conflict with my spouse Sunday morning before church?

I wish I could answer this from a hypothetical perspective.  I cannot.  In fact, I have fresh experience from which to write this post. There are significant implications for the pastor and his wife who have a conflict that goes unresolved leading into the Sunday morning service.  Ours started on a Saturday night.  In a rare moment in our marriage, the hurt and frustration went unresolved and carried over into Sunday morning.  We drove to church still struggling.  We both chose not to go to Sunday school, but to go off separately to think, pray, and try to figure out how we each contributed to this rare circumstance of lingering conflict.

How Are Mac & PC People Different?

In an infographic that’s bound to cause arguments and perhaps fistfights, researchers at Hunch placed data from about 700,000 of its website visitors onto a deep illustration that shows just how different users of Macs and PCs are. They came up with interesting correlations between users’ chosen computing platforms and their demographics and personalities, as well as tastes in food, fashion and media.

The 4 P’s of Business

Many Christians inhabit the world of business, a realm that pastors frequently berate and misunderstand. There are dilemmas faced in the business world that go unnoticed by other Christians. This post is a sermon on business ethics from Proverbs that touched on some of those issues. It is structured around four priorities of business and a concise vision for business ethics.

DA Carson on Biblical Exegesis

Trail Guide: a global journey for God’s Glory

cross-centered relationships

What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?

What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.

For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?

1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.

First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.

My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.

Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].

2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?

What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.

What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.

What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.

Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]

3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]

How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.

Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.

Is Africa barbaric, forgotten or ignored?

Is Africa a continent out of control? Why are trucks loads of money, forces of relief aid, and sympathetic media attention not helping rather haunting the drifting dark land? In the past decade many regions of Africa have been blitzed by war and conflict, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Sierra Leone crisis and the war in Ethiopia and the various other civil wars.

I’ve come across a book entitle Stealth Conflicts; How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored which, provides a useful map representing conflict death tolls between 1990 and 2007 where the square area of continents/regions corresponds to their proportion of conflict death tolls:

88% of all conflict death tolls in this period were in Africa, followed by Asia (6%), Middle East (4%), Europe (1%) and the Americas (1%)Source: Virgil Hawkins, New World Maps, Stealth Conflicts, December 30, 2008

In addition to the conflict deaths, there have been over 9 million refugees and displaced people. If this scale of destruction and fighting was in Europe, then people would be calling it World War III with the entire world rushing to report, provide aid, mediate and otherwise try to diffuse the situation. However, there is silence and no sympathy on a grand scale to extend grace to these WARnout African people.

I received this story from some friends serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, “Word had trickled out that the entire village was burned, although the inhabitants were rousted by gunfire and allowed to flee their homes.  The attack was in retaliation for ‘allowing’ government and MONUC (UN) troops to headquarter in their hamlet in a recent operation to seek out and forcefully repatriate the Hutus. Despite official claims, no success.  In classic guerilla fashion, the Hutu warlords who control columbium and tantalum ore mining – cell phones and jet engine exhausts – (google “coltan” if you are interested) and their militias had simply retreated into the heavy jungle.  Someone didn’t learn the lessons taught by the Viet Nam conflict?!”

Virgil Hawkins states, “The death toll from conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is literally one thousand times greater than that in Israel-Palestine, yet it is the latter that is the object of far greater media coverage … [and where] the intricacies and nuances of the conflict, political situation and peace process are almost obsessively analyzed and presented.… [African] conflicts are frequently brushed off and dismissed as being chaotic, or worthy of some vague pity or humanitarian concern, but rarely of any in-depth political analysis. But even [when there is coverage of conflicts in] Africa, the death toll has little to do with the levels of coverage. Darfur made a rare appearance on the radar of Western concern in 2004 … at a time when the known death toll from conflict there was still 80 times smaller than that in the DRC. Similarly, political violence in early 2007 in Zimbabwe resulting in one death and a number of arrests and beatings of political leaders became the object of relatively high levels of attention and indignation in the Western media. At almost exactly the same time, political protest in Guinea was put down by government forces that fired indiscriminately into crowds of protesters resulting in a total of 130 deaths and numerous arrests. Also at the same time, street battles between government and opposition forces in the capital of the DRC resulted in between 400 and 600 deaths, and resulted in the exile of the opposition leader. Yet this violence in Guinea and the DRC was virtually ignored by the Western media.”

Q: Is Africa barbaric, forgotten or ignored?

A: All the above. It is time for the church to step up and step in.