Posts

Guilty

User Submission: Forgiving the Guilty

The following is a submission from a user like you. Emily shared her incredible story so that it might touch the hearts and lives of our readers. If you would like to share your own story, you can do so here

For as long as I can remember I have always found healing in writing. It’s how I process emotions and a whirlwind of overwhelming situations – situations that seems to weigh so heavy on one’s heart that it shakes their faith to the core.

Because I had many stories with situations like that to share, I began writing my book last September. I had been brainstorming for three years before I actually sat down to write it. More than anything, I wanted to be as honest and as open as I possibly could. It truly was a healing process for me as I reached back into the recesses of my mind to share very personal stories about my life – stories that would glorify my King, Jesus, and point others straight to Him and the miraculous transforming power of salvation, healing, and deliverance.

Although I openly discuss many things that the Lord helped me overcome, mostly sexual sin and rebellion, there is a particular occurrence that strengthened my faith more than anything I could have ever imagined. I find myself needing to talk about it today, knowing deep down in my soul that no matter how dark, tragic, or extremely sad it may be, Jesus has turned beauty from these ashes and will receive glory from it because what the devil meant for evil, the Lord has and will continue to turn around for good!

Last week, I found out that the man who murdered my father five and a half years ago was given a guilty sentence. He will serve up to 45 years in prison as a punishment for his actions.  And while most people are shouting: “That man should burn in hell!” I am preaching, “You MUST forgive!”  because I know the severity of holding onto the wrongs that others have done to us. My friends, it is simply not worth it.

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

Although I made a CHOICE to forgive the man who took my dad’s life right after it happened, I wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts after reading the articles describing the horrendous acts of murder that turned my world upside down in November of 2008. Seeing the photo of this man, as he was escorted by two police officers out of the courtroom, his stone cold eyes looking straight back at me, made my stomach churn. My heart was pierced and so many different emotions rose up in me.

Avoiding traumatic thoughts and emotions was the main reason I chose not to follow the murder case as the years went on. Immediately, I chose to forgive and move on with both my life with Christ and my now husband. I did not want to live in the trauma. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or miss my dad terribly.  It was because dwelling on all of this wicked and demonically influenced tragedy would never bring my dad back.  I knew that justice belonged ONLY in the hands of the Lord.  Most of all, I longed for that man to repent of what he did and find a life-changing relationship with my Jesus like I had found. I still pray for that to this day.

I can’t say that I have found the strength to pray a prayer like this from soley within myself. My strength does come from within though, but it is the power and might of the Holy Spirit who has given it to me. My life verse from the Bible will forever hold true, and I will never stop standing upon the promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I’m so thankful for that promise.

Jesus will never abandon me. Although, my earthly father is gone, I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than anyone could. I cling to Him when the storms of life try to overtake me, for He is my anchor of hope. I cling to and stand upon His Word that is full of promises – promises of His love, mercy, and grace, for He is my Rock and firm foundation. I cling to my Jesus and the voice of His Holy Spirit, for He is the One who gives me strength and courage to endure every trial I could ever face. No matter how dark life may get, know that when you trust in Jesus, and you hide your life in Him, you have a Light within you that shines so brightly it will overtake all of the darkness.

Relationships

How Comparison Kills Relationships

Before I begin, let me first confess that for the majority of my life I have lived envious of people. I was ruled by jealousy. What I perceived that I lacked, and saw in others, was the lens I used to view my relationships. Even as a pastor, I found it challenging to understand how to identify and use my gifts when I felt I was so inadequate. What I really struggled to understand then was how much other people mattered and how to live out the mandate to love others more than we are to love ourselves.

Today, I have learned that the best investment we can make is in other people and the best assets we hold are the relationships we form. The best use of the resources we have is to effectively steward these relationships to the greatest capacity possible. For me, it can still be a challenge though to view people purely through a positive lens. Why is that? Is it clearly selfish?

Tony Campolo once said we “need to love the sinner and hate our own sin.” This is not the usual approach – it usually reads “love the sinner; the THE sin.” Often, instead of looking at life this way, we become defined by our judgment. If you believe you are exempt, I would challenge you to a little self-reflection. Once we see that we are clearly sinful, then our perspective can truly be changed. I, personally, look at Jesus’ words about the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” and strive to do my best each and every day. The question I am now asking and have those around me ask, “does my attitude and actions represent the very element I am seeking to live by?” and then “Be honest with me.”

DL Moody once said, “The scriptures were not given for our information but our transformation.” The greatest commandment has to transform us in this way. The question we should ask now is how is this transformative work is being applied in our actions and attitudes towards people?

I would challenge you to ask these questions with me: How can our attitudes be changed? Can our actions reflect this change? Can love be at the core of our responses to people? Let’s love God and others to the absolute fullest in everything we do, even if it might not always be our gut reaction.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

I have long wondered why ‘blessed are the pure in heart’ is my least favorite of the Beatitudes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the one that I a clearly do not exemplify in my own life. The simple truth is, the more I look into my heart of hearts, the further from God I realize that I am. I keep getting reminded of the somewhat creepy sounding statement from the old radio show, The Shadow: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” You see, the issue is, the more I get to know Jesus the more I see the evil that lurks in my heart. Not only does the Shadow know, but I know and there is no psychological trick of denial that is strong enough, or effective enough, to cover over that fact and hide that truth.

The closer I get to Jesus the more I realize I am a despicable, sinful, self-centered, egotistical, covetous person. At this point you are all supposed to say, “oh no Dan, you’re wonderful, awesome, and godly, don’t be so hard on yourself, we love you”. Thanks. I appreciate the gesture, but that is exactly how our world tries to deal with the sinfulness of our hearts and it just doesn’t cut it. Denying that one has cancer will not get rid of the cancer. A correct diagnosis and surgery can. Denying the sin in my heart will not make my heart pure anymore than painting over the X-ray of the tumor will make it go away.

Now here is the huge irony in all of this. It rests in the statement “the closer I get to Jesus the more I realize how sinful I am”.  As the sin in our life gets dealt with and we grow to be more like Jesus, our heart is getting more pure. As a result we see who God is with greater clarity than ever. BUT, we also see the sin that remains with that same clarity. I may have been able to effectively deal with a mouth that swore like a drunken trucker before I came to Jesus. But as I get closer to Him I realize that sins of the heart, like envy or jealousy, are harder to deal with. And, as long as I don’t do something too overt to let that sin out, nobody else knows about. I look good on the outside, but the inside is not what it should be.

So what’s the answer? I found it in a 4th century book by St. Augustine titled, “Confessions”. In it I saw a man who learned to be honest about the sin in His heart. He exposed it to the light of truth. And just like a vampire from a Hollywood science fiction movie, it looses all power and crumbles to dust when exposed to the light. Sadly, Christians have learned to paint over and hide their heartfelt sins. We have learned not to expose them and make them known because we so quickly get rejected by other Christians who are threatened by the possibility of having to expose their own sin.

Jesus has a very different approach. It is called confession, repentance, and forgiveness. He deals with our sin and urges us to move on and get even closer to Him. But I want to warn you, when you do that you will find out even more of the things that lurk in your heart. A further part of the irony here is that the closer you get to God, the more you realize that you are farther from Him than you thought. As you see the glory and holiness of God more clearly, because your heartfelt sins are being dealt with, the more you see that you are not nearly as close to Him as you hoped. You are more sinful than you knew, and he is more holy than you ever imagined. But there is hope. Jesus makes a promise in this verse that if you continue to pursue a pure heart and are honest with Him about your sin, the day will come when you will stand before Him, face to face. You will be welcomed into His eternal kingdom. As Paul says, “now we see as if dimly in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.”

Titus

Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.

Blessed Are The Merciful

Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

I continue to be perplexed at the anger and rejection that so many Christians heap on people whose sin is obvious and public. What befuddles me is that this is about as far from doing what Jesus did as you can get. I look at how Jesus treats the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery, or the drunks and prostitutes. What I see in Jesus is a savior who was completely committed to holiness and glorifying God in all He did. Yet, He did not allow that commitment to result in the condemnation of those who consistently wrestled with sin and lost. Rather Jesus showed great mercy to those people. He certainly called out their sin and challenged them to live a holy life. But at the same time He empathized with their weakness and sought to lift them to higher things. And He did this even though He never sinned and, therefore, never needed that kind of mercy.

In the beatitudes Jesus has made it clear that we are spiritually bankrupt and in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy. If you are a follower of Christ you have received that mercy, countless times over. Knowing that we have received such wonderful mercy, what can we do other than to pass that mercy on to others?

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of the Unforgiving Servant. It is about a man who was forgiven a monstrous debt by his master. The debt was so large that it would take the average worker (in Jesus day) 200,000 years to earn that much. He was forgiven something he could never pay. The servant later comes upon a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of about three months wages. That fellow servant asks for time to pay the debt. The man refuses to give him time and in great anger, throws him in debtors prison along with his wife and children. Later, the master hears of this and in his anger, throws the servant in prison for the rest of his days. Jesus makes the point that He is the master and we are the servants who, because of the cross and resurrection, have been forgiven of a debt we could never pay. In light of that, how dare we spout vitriol and anger at people who have sinned against us in significantly smaller ways. How dare we not show mercy to a fellow debtor.

Giving people mercy simply means to not push on them the punishment that they deserve for what they have done. If you throw yourself on the “mercy of the court” you are saying, “yes I am guilty but please do not punish me to the extent I deserve”. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have thrown yourself on the mercy of His cosmic court. And you have received mercy. Having freely received, we are to freely give. It doesn’t mean that we fail to call sin what it is. It means that we call it what it is, but we let a person know, we will not heap anger, rejection, punishment or suffering on them, because we have received a far great mercy from the Lord.

There is a symbiotic relationship at work here. We have received mercy from the Lord so we give mercy to others. When we do, we will continue to receive mercy. When we don’t give that mercy, we can be assured that we will not be receiving it. The unforgiving servant learned that sad lesson.

Hate

What Does God Hate?

Recently a friend told me of a conversation he had about God. When the person found out that he followed Jesus she told him she had a list of questions for God. For instance, one of them was, “why does God hate Halloween?” My first thought was “wow, I didn’t see that coming”. My next thought was, I am not so sure God hates kids dressing up and getting candy from folks. In fact, I wonder if it doesn’t amuse Him on some level. Certainly there are other aspects of Halloween that are not pleasing to God, but that’s not the point of this. It is just to let you know how I got thinking about the question:

What Does God Hate?

It is a very important question, if for no other reason than “hate” has become a huge topic in our western culture. We now have a whole category of crimes in which we have ratcheted up the punishment because they involve “hate”. So if a black man kills another black man or a white woman kills another white woman, or a gay man kills another gay man, then it is just plain old murder. But if the black man kills a white man, or white woman kills a black woman, or straight person kills a gay person then we immediately start looking for a hate crime motive. Apparently killing someone you hate is more hideous than killing someone you only dislike or have no feelings about what-so-ever. Additionally we have added hate “speech” to the list of crimes. And here is where we really are on a slippery slope. More and more we are seeing people use the “hate” card whenever someone disagrees with the lifestyle, political position, or ideas of someone who is different from them. So now the political discourse is filled with accusations of people being “hate mongers” simply because they disagree with a policy or practice. So if someone speaks about having tougher immigration laws, then obviously they are a bigot and hate people from other countries. Are there people who hold to such positions and do it out of hate? Of course there are. But not everyone who disagrees with someone or something is motivated by hate. Let’s go back to basic logic. Take this line of thinking; People from Boston are Red Sox fans; you are a Red Sox Fan; you must be from Boston. NOT! 

What we see is that hate on any level has become taboo in western culture.

Any notion of hate is seen as being barbaric. It is seen to be part of some primitive nature that truly civilized and enlightened people have outgrown. Surely, the thinking goes,we should have progressed beyond hate by now. If we are talking about hating people then yes, certainly as a follower of Jesus I would say that we need to get beyond the hate of people and learn to love people as Jesus has loved us. Both the Old and New Testaments are clear in their instructions to us to love others, even our enemies. But in typical mentally lazy fashion we have taken the injunction to not hate others and have applied it to everything in life. Where as the Bible is clear that hating other people, just because they are different from us, is wrong, we have made it morally repugnant to hate anything. That goes light-years beyond what the Bible teaches and what God does.

The fact of the matter is, there are some things in life that God hates and if we don’t hate them also, then we are not the people Jesus wants us to be.

There are enough places in the Bible that speak of things God hates that are not an obscure concept. Rather, it is central to His very character as God. There are some things that are so odious to God that He hates them. Consider this direct and unambiguous passage from Proverbs 6:16-19,

16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:

17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,

19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

So let me ask you, Is there anything wrong with hating those things? What would be the opposite of hating them? Surely we don’t want to say that we love “hands that shed innocent blood” or “a false witness that breathes out lies”. Ok so maybe we wouldn’t love them but does that mean we have to hate them? What is the other alternative? I suppose we could be neutral about them, which is simply another way of saying, indifferent, uncaring, unmoved. In some respects that may be worse. Do we really want to be indifferent to the deaths of innocent people? Do we really want to remain unmoved by the death and destruction caused by people who are divisive and evil in their hearts, quick to run off and implement those evil plans?  Do we want to be so hard-hearted as to not have the least bit of inkling in our chest that this should not be? Being neutral, uncaring, unmoved, about such things is tantamount to approving of them, but without the guts to actually own such feelings. It is the weaklings way out, the rationalization of the moral coward.

God hates such things. He hates them because of what they do to people. He hates them because they violate his very character of being a God of justice and righteousness who cares for the broken and the downtrodden. He hates them because He is a God who loves those made in His image and to see them wrecked and destroyed by people who love evil causes a righteous indignation to rise up within Him. God hates such things because they are evil. Maybe that is the crux of the problem. We have so diluted our understanding of evil that we have lost the ability to be truly angry over it and the human devastation it leaves in its wake. How can you read about Gaddafi’s family pouring scalding hot water on a nanny because the nanny refused to beat a child and NOT get angry? How can you hear about a family denying water and food to a 10-year-old boy for days until he died of dehydration and not hate such evil? How can you hear of the tens of thousands or more of young girls trapped in the sex-slave industry and not hate what you hear? To not hate such things is to treat the people who suffer under them as less than worthy of our love and concern. We can understand having our hearts break over such things, but we need to go a step further.

We need to hate such things. Because God hates them too.

But here is the trick. We need to hate such things and at the same time not be consumed by our hate. We need to be people who point to redemption and forgiveness and restoration. Our hatred of evil must become a motivator for good. Our tendency when we hate is to become destructive and vindictive ourselves. We become that which we hate. Maybe that is why so many of us try to avoid any hint of hate. But in God’s case, when He looked at the destruction that sin brought upon humanity, He turned to a plan of redemption, forgiveness, and restoration. He did it by way of the Cross of Calvary. Jesus came and died in order to defeat the things God hates. He did it because He loves those who are caught in the bondage of such evil. In an irony of all ironies, he suffered that death at the hands of people who hated him and for people who hated him. That truly is hating the sin and loving the sinner.