Friday, October 06, 2006

Forgiving the Unrepentant

I was listening to local radio talk show host Charles Adler yesterday afternoon and the hot topic was forgiveness. The discussion arose as a result of the recent tragic event within the Amish community and the widely publicized decision they have made to forgive the now dead murderer of their children. The discussion was excellent and two guests shared some incredible insights into the freedom that is gained by the forgiver in making the choice not to remain bitter and angry. Eventually a caller came on the line and said that he thought it was all complete drivel, that forgiveness was not possible unless there was repentance and restitution offered by the offender. This is an idea I have heard expressed many times over the years I have been in ministry and it illuminates a basic misunderstanding of how we are to direct our lives.

First of all I want to address the idea that Jesus does not expect us to forgive others unless they repent of their wrongdoing. Mathew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, and many more clearly state that we are to forgive others and there is no mention whatsoever of them having to seek that forgiveness first. Look at these words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Notice that we are not to withhold our love until our enemies are sorry and become friends.

In Matthew 7:2 we are essentially told that the way we dish it out is the way it will come back to us from the Father. How do you want to be forgiven? Only for the offenses you are aware of and repentant for, or do you want complete and total release from all guilt - even of offenses you are unaware you have committed or that you did not think were wrong at the time.

That brings about the big question - How exactly does one do that? How do we forgive someone who is not sorry or who acknowledges no wrongdoing? How does a father forgive his sons murderer? How does the abuse victim forgive the abuser?

A couple of things need to be understood.

1. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean restoration of relationship.

2. Forgiveness is an act of the will, not the emotions.

If you are under the impression that in order to forgive someone there will have to be full reconciliation of relationship then you are not going to be able to do it, nor should you. For an abuse victim to send the message that what was done was okay is unconscionable. To forgive in this instance is to say, I forgive, I refuse to give that person any further power in my life. I release all anger and bitterness toward them and I pray that God brings them to a place of repentance and that they get help for the problem that lead them to do what they did. End of story, end of association. If the offense was criminal then any effort that can be made should be made to prevent the offender from victimizing anyone else.

Most people understand the idea of letting your will set the direction for your life rather than your emotions. We all do it in some areas of life. For some reason, however, in forgiveness and often in relationships we think we should follow the direction of our emotions rather than the will. Allow me to illustrate.

We wake up on Monday morning and we don't feel like going to work. Our emotions are telling us to roll over and go back to sleep, we override those emotions with our will, which has determined that we want to keep on living in the house we are buying, and driving the car etc. The will sets the direction for life. We start a diet or exercise program. Our will is to be thin and healthy and to live a long and active life. Our emotions fight this every step of the way. We feel like eating junk food and sitting around watching TV, even though we know that the end result of that behavior is poor health and likely premature death. To the degree that we allow our emotions to set the direction in our lives we suffer unnecessarily.

So to forgive by the will, a decision must be made! Write it down if it helps.

"As of October 6, 2006, I forgive (fill in the blank)."

Now when you wake up tomorrow you will still feel the same feelings of anger and resentment you always have. Instead of dwelling on those emotions declare to yourself (out loud if no one is around), "No, I refuse to think and feel that way, I forgave that on Oct. 6" Repeat this exercise as often as it takes. Eventually your emotions will catch up to the direction that you set with your will - and you will be free!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Thoughts on Freedom

Galatians 5:1
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

I think most of us have romantic notions about our love of freedom and its importance to us, what we would do to defend it and that sort of thing. What we don't seem to be so fond of is accepting the responsibility that comes with freedom. What I mean is, that if we use our freedom to do things that "feel good"; even though they may be morally or ethically wrong, we need to face the reality that there will, at some time in the future, be a price to pay.

If you eat McDonalds three times a day, seven days a week and you wind up fat or suffering from heart disease, it is not McDonald’s responsibility.

We love to play the blame game these days. I think the tag line for our society should be “It’s not my fault.”

The problem is this: when we refuse to accept responsibility for the choices freedom allows, we set in motion a process that leads to the loss of those freedoms.

Look at smoking as an example, how long do we have before it will be illegal to buy cigarettes in Canada? Or maybe they will sell them but you will have to smoke them in a bullet proof shed at least two miles from any other living thing. I may not be a smoker but their plight perfectly illustrates my point.
- I got lung cancer
- It is not my fault
- Give me some money to make me feel better
- Take away the freedom of others to keep it from happening again.

It is a slippery slope and it is evident all over our society. We are ready and willing to give up freedom at the first sign of danger. Lock up the guns, close down the purveyors of fat, arrest the cartoonists, silence the talk show hosts, ban the books and quick - dress the women in sleeping bags. After all, if I have an evil thought it must be that wicked seductresses fault, not my own, I mean how can I be held responsible for the thoughts I allow myself to think?

Say good bye to freedom and welcome to 1984.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Job 19:23-27

Well here we are into week two of our reading and we run smack into the book of Job. How is everyone doing with that? Does it seem a little depressing? How about if I help you out a little by telling you that this entire book happens to Job in less than a six month period and that in the end he winds up better off than he was at the start? Still tough? Just keep going and remember to ask God to reveal the things that will bring life and revelation to your spirit.

For Lectio Divina this week I am focusing on Job 19:23-27.

23 "Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

The thing that first jumps out to me is that Job’s words were being recorded; though he clearly does not realize it at the time, and that they were set down forever! Here we are reading and seeking God with them nearly 6000 years later! Awesome. I wonder if any of the words we speak are being recorded by God in this manner? Have you ever been on a rant and stopped to think that God may use your little tirade some day to teach others? Interesting thought.

I also find it fascinating that Job knows His Redeemer lives and that He will come to earth some day and that Job will see Him with his own eyes after he leaves his flesh behind! For this moment his heart yearns.

The two things I am praying and reflecting on from all of this in myself are:
1. Am I too loose at the mouth. I know I am better now than I was in my youth but am I careful enough to honor God with my words?
2. Am I yearning for that day when I see Him face to face or is too much of my treasure tied up in this realm and in things that will pass away?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Dinner or the Destiny

The New Year is one of those measuring times for me. You know; a time to examine my life and see how things are really going. How is the dream progressing? Am I on track? Is this anywhere near where I believe God wants me to be?
In Genesis 25 Esau trades his divine destiny for a bowl of stew. This is not something that is looked mercifully upon anywhere else in scripture. The writer of Hebrews describes him as “Godless” for this act. Why, do you suppose, this one action is judged so severely? Why was he not able to get the birthright back later on when he came to his senses? I think there are several reasons. First of all; he has been replaced. The plan of God does not just cease when we decide not to play the roll he has for us, another son steps up to fill the part. (That doesn’t mean we should just go off and die; there is always a second chance for those who return to God in Christ.) Secondly, and I think most importantly, God is revealing through the life of Esau, a fatal flaw that each of us is susceptible to if we do not guard our hearts. Each of us need to take care that we do not trade our divine destiny, that we do not give up all that we could be, all that we should be, in exchange for momentary pleasure.
Think about it. There is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not do drugs”. There is no command not to watch television from the time you get home from work until you can no longer keep your eyes open. As a pastor who regularly councils frustrated wives I really wish there was a verse that said playing on the computer every spare moment was against the will of God, but there isn’t. What there is though is this story of Esau; the story of a man who lived like there would be no consequence for doing what he wanted to do in the moment.
If you find yourself, this January, suddenly aware that you are somehow missing the plan of God for your life, then ask yourself this question:
“What am I trading it for?”
Is it a bowl of food? Is it sexual gratification? Some guilty pleasure that you have convinced yourself is, “No big deal.” Maybe you are just playing Peter Pan and refusing to grow up and be a man. Eventually you need to discover that hanging out with the boys is something that “BOYS” do. Whatever you are doing, drinking, binge eating, sleeping, shopping, surfing; realize this; these little issues are the “bowl of stew” in our lives. Now I ask you, what’s it going to be?
- The dinner or the destiny.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reading Through the Bible 2006

I am reading through the Bible this year and challenging my congregation, and all of you, to join me.
From the first two days readings two passages stand out to me:
Genesis 3:8-9
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"
Genesis 5:21-24
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
What stands out to me here is that God comes to walk with man and when Adam does not show up He asks ,”Where are you?” In Chapter 5 The only information given about Enoch is that he walked with God, it says it twice, for 300 years and then God just took him.
That just wows me. I want to walk with God, God wants to walk with me. When I don’t show up His question for me is “Where are you Dan?” He knows where I am so I must not.

Like Enoch I want the defining characteristic of my life to be my relationship with God.