Encouragement From The Word

Forgiveness

We all make mistakes.  Some days, our blunders are bigger than others, but even on our good days, there are booboos.  We need to deal with them quickly and constructively.

One of the things I help couples understand during marriage preparation is the importance of open communication – owning our own feelings, telling the other person in a constructive way if something is bothersome, or even offensive.  This is true in all our interpersonal relationships, of course, but most people don’t come and talk to me about it unless they’re preparing to get married, when I require them to have the conversation.  I wish it were required for all people at various times in life.  (Maybe if we had a crash course in interpersonal relationships as often as we have to get our licence plate stickers renewed, the world would be less encumbered by conflict!)

If you have been offended – I don’t mean in the trendy way of a new generation, but truly hurt – you have a responsibility to tell the person who hurt you and own up to how you feel.  The other party then has the responsibility to apologize for the offence and to make amends, even if she or he doesn’t think anything was done inappropriately.  After all, what the other person received was her or his reality, and something can be learned for the sake of the relationship if an apology is offered and the conflict is cleared up.  And then – this is sometimes the hard part – your next responsibility is to forgive that person quickly.

It may be hard to forget the offence, but for the sake of the relationship, it’s important to clear the slate and start fresh.  I often illustrate it this way:  I have a small scar near the knuckle of my left index finger.  I remember exactly how it got there.  I was adding weight to a freight car on my model railroad, about 16 years ago, when a dollop of hot glue landed on my hand.  Of course, my immediate reaction was to get rid of what was causing the pain.  As I brushed off the glue, it took some skin with it.  It healed, and I have the scar – but no pain.  I remember the incident, but it’s over.  It causes no angst, no pain; I am left only with the memory.

That can be the case in relationships, too.  We may remember the offence, but the pain is gone when we’ve forgiven the other person.

“…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.32, NLT).

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Biblical Messages

ALTAR EGO: That ‘F’ Word (Again)

Many people carry a burden of unforgiveness.  In this message, we’re encouraged to lay on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.  It’s based on Proverbs 19.11 and Romans 12.1-5.  In the middle of the message, I showed this video.  You can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

“If I get to heaven, I’d better not see you there.”

On the news the other night, I saw a tragic story about an elderly couple who, in the process of giving away kittens via Kijiji, fell victim to what’s called a “distraction crime”. While one potential kitten owner talked to the couple, that person’s partner went to use the bathroom and stole some valuables from the couple. The good news from the story is that the robbers have been caught, because a vigilant neighbour recorded the unfamiliar vehicle’s licence plate number. Some of the stolen goods have been recovered.

But there was something very sad that struck me about the story. Near the end, the lady who was robbed said that if she were to encounter the thieves again, she would say, “If I get to heaven, I’d better not see you there.

That statement broke my heart.

I know absolutely nothing about the spiritual lives of any of the people involved, so I will not say anything about how that lady should have responded. But I will say this: I hope that no follower of Jesus would ever say that to anyone else. Ever.

Many people harbour bitterness in their hearts. And when a crime has just been committed against you, there is an understandable anger and grief that is experienced. But my hope is that as a Christian, I would never find myself saying to someone who had wronged me, “If I get to heaven, I’d better not see you there.” In fact, my hope is that I would see that person there, as a result of the grace of God pouring out over that person, leading to repentance and forgiveness.

People respond to being wronged in various ways. Some respond with anger, even after a long time; they hope, perhaps, that the offender will ‘rot in hell’, or something like that. Others respond with forgiveness and mercy. As Christians, our model is Jesus, who said, even from the heinous pain of the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34, NLT).

Think about it: Jesus forgave those who were responsible for his crucifixion, in order that the way would be paved for you and me to be able to be forgiven of our sins – and be free to forgive others their sins. Jesus gave us a dangerous model for prayer when he encouraged us to pray, “…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11.4, NLT).

Let’s not harbour bitterness or unforgiveness against those who have wronged us. They take up space in our souls and don’t pay rent. It’s not easy to give those feelings up to God, but we are invited by the Lord to do so. When we surrender our bad feelings and ill will, he will open our hearts to enable us to wish heaven’s joy for those for whom it might otherwise have seemed a long shot.

Encouragement From The Word

Talking about the “F” Word

I want to talk about the “F” word.  It’s a word that reviles many people in our world.  It makes many people uncomfortable, but it needs our attention.

No, not that “F” word.  Keep reading.

It’s “forgiveness”.  Surprised?  Don’t be; it’s an “F” word that troubles a lot of folks in our world, and may be a significant issue for dealing with conflict in our society.

Jesus, in giving his dangerous model for prayer, enjoins us to “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11.4a, NLT).  That’s easy to say, and not easy to do.  What do we do when someone sins against us and does not apologize?  Can we be expected to forgive someone who does not ask forgiveness?  In a word, yes.

Someone wise once said that holding a grudge allows another person to take up space in your brain without paying rent – or words to that effect.  And it’s true:  irrespective of whether the transgressor seeks forgiveness, we have the responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to forgive.  If we fail to do so, we are the losers.

Yet our pride often gets in the way, doesn’t it?  In our fallen state, we sometimes think we are punishing the person who sins against us by not forgiving.  Chances are, though, that the transgressor does not think much about whether or not we have forgiven him or her.  No, it rests with us to forgive.

Ideally, this happens in concert with an apology.  But because we can’t take responsibility for other people’s feelings or actions, our act of forgiveness may have to take place without any overture from the other party.

Forgiveness is an act of the will that benefits both the transgressor and the transgressed.  We all win when forgiveness is offered.  Are there areas in your life where you are letting someone else take up real estate in your head without paying rent?  Are there broken relationships over which you continue to obsess?  Make a decision to forgive.  Try, if possible, to offer that forgiveness to the person directly, whether she or he is repentant or not.  If it’s not possible to forgive the individual personally, give it to God in prayer.

How can we forgive another person in prayer?  Here’s an example.  Feel free to adapt it if it’s helpful:  Lord, you know the situation between N and me is not great.  You know what s/he did to me, and it hurt.  But in your holy presence, I forgive N.  Please soften her/his heart, and restore our relationship.  Free me from the ill will I have held toward N.  Forgive me when I have hurt others, and when I have sinned against you.  Put a new and right spirit within me, so that I can follow you faithfully and freely, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Again, this might be easier to read than to say and do.  It might be that the person you need to forgive is not even alive.  It could be that the harm done to you by that person has caused serious mental, physical or spiritual damage to you.  God can heal your wounds; God wants to heal your wounds.  Give them to him, and give the situation over to him.  Invite the Lord to be present with you in your pain.

You might need time to work through your situation with the Lord.  Set aside the time.  If necessary, work with a pastor, a spiritual director, or a trusted friend to help you process your pain.  Whatever it takes, determine to evict the unwanted tenant of unforgiveness from your mind and spirit.  God will be with you.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11.24-25, NIV).

Biblical Messages

TAKE A VOW: Taking out the trash

If you’re going to get rid of the stink, you’ve got to take out the trash.  This applies in home economics and in marriage!  We need to practise repentance and forgiveness to have good, godly marriages.  This message is based on Ephesians 4.25-5.2, and can be listened to by clicking here.

It was noted to me after the worship gathering at which I preached this message that if, in fact, I could find an 80-inch television for $1500, I should probably buy it.  (Guess I didn’t do my homework on that one!)

Encouragement From The Word

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!

While driving to Massachusetts last weekend, one of the guys with whom I was travelling remarked on the size of a large hill alongside Interstate 90.  “That’s an old landfill site,” remarked another.  “You can tell because there are pipes sticking up out of the ground all over the hill.”

Those pipes served two purposes:  to allow oxygen in and to let methane out.  Without that process, the breakdown that is intended to occur in a landfill site that’s been covered over with grass couldn’t take place.

Garbage is a big deal.  If you’re not sure about that, ask residents of Toronto, who are under the threat of another strike, which could impede the collection of their trash, and see it piled up in parking lots and outdoor rinks, as happened a couple of summers ago.

Anyone who drives on Highway 401 understands that garbage is a big deal.  Truck after truck of it is sent barreling down the 401 every day, to meet its final resting place in the state of Michigan.  We Ontarians produce an awful lot of waste.

I wonder, though, how much of that is really necessary?  It would be possible, but not altogether practical, to avoid putting garbage to the street at all.  But it would be quite impossible to avoid producing any garbage, period.  We are, after all, consumers.

Some people, I fear, may see their role as consumers as more of an holy calling than a necessary evil.  While I am neither a pack-rat nor a hoarder, I am a bit reluctant to throw something away if I think it will have some good use.  (The difference, I think, may happen at the purchasing end.)  And with organizations that collect used clothing and even used electronics for various noble purposes, not to mention the ubiquitous nature of yard sales (three seasons of the year), there is a great deal of recycling that can take place, even before the blue box gets used.

Part of the necessity for such organizations and sales comes about as a result of our society having transformed itself into a throwaway society.  Once something is no longer useful, or cool, we simply toss it aside.  There are some folks who even do that with friends – other people – who cease to be ‘useful’ to them.  Sad, isn’t it?

In my devotions the other day, I read a most interesting statement from author Yushi Nomura, who wrote this in his book Desert Wisdom:  Sayings From The Desert Fathers (p. 11):

Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God would forgive a sinner.  After instructing him at some length, the old man asked him:  Tell me, my dear, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?  Oh, no! he replied, I would mend it and wear it again.  The old man said to him:  Well, if you care for your cloak, will not God show mercy to his own creature?

I think this may hit the nail on the head when it comes to why our society has such a difficult time grasping God’s grace.  Because we are prone to tossing things (and, sometimes, people) aside, we create a picture of God that is rather like us, and we assume that God would toss us aside, too.

Abba Mios, one of the early Christians who lived austerely in the desert to be closer to God, had a good point when he asked if the soldier would throw away his cloak just because it was ripped.  The soldier rightly answered that he’d fix it and keep wearing it.  (After all, there was no Quartermaster Store to gain a replacement!)  That’s why it made so much sense for Abba Mios to remind the soldier that God cares for us more than we care for our stuff…much more.

Jesus said, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12.23-24, NIV).

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!