Tag: forgiveness (page 1 of 2)

A Lament for Today

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I lament for us today,
because fear motivated us more than love;
because we stopped seeing our brothers and sisters created in the image of God;
because the Golden Rule did not apply to our opponents.

Now, the greatest call of followers of Jesus is to become agents of reconciliation.
Our Savior brought us who were far from Him near, so that we might do the same for our neighbors.

The Good News of the Gospel motivates us
to give a voice to the voiceless;
love our enemies;
forgive those who hurt us;
extend grace to each other;
because Jesus has done this for us.

Let our laments turn to confession and listening.
May our hearts soften in compassion for each other.

Amen

Photo credit by Matthew Henry.

Just a Little More

“Don’t wear your cleats to practice. Bring your running shoes.” Coach Jamie, my high school soccer coach, would announce these dreaded words. It signified what he lovingly termed, “Conditioning Practice.” As opposed to a regular practice, these practices meant running and sprinting. Followed by more running and sprinting. A few ab workouts and pushups rounded out our session in the humid August weather of Upstate New York.

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We loathed these practices. Coach would press us to compete against ourselves, putting in just a little more effort and energy every drill. By the end of practice, each of us had experienced a small degree of satisfaction in making it through this conditioning. When the humid August sun turned into the cool October breeze, our team could run with any opponent we face.

Grace reminds me of conditioning practice. The moment we think we have sufficiently exercised grace, we find ourselves in relationships and circumstances that need just a little more than we thought.

Consider what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” It’s as if Jesus says, “Just when you thought you gave enough, double it.” Not necessarily the Bible verse we stitch onto pillows or make into bumper stickers.

Jesus calls to exercise an unnatural amount of grace. We do not extend it by sheer willpower or gritty determination. It comes from experiencing the forgiveness and acceptance that He has given us. The more we realize the grace we have received through Christ, the more we can come to extend it to others, even when it’s a little more than we think.

So today, you might encounter opportunities to offer a little more grace…
Listening to a person who needs five more minutes in a conversation.
Answering ten more additional questions.
Waiting fifteen more minutes than you would like.
Perhaps, even walking a literal extra mile.

Grace like conditioning practice prepares us to offer more each opportunity with the realization that Christ has given us infinitely more than we can ever think or imagine.

Who will you extend a little more grace today?

Photo credit by Christian Widell.

Breaking Bread

My Grandma grew up in New York City during the Great Depression. She developed a toughness in speaking her mind and defending what she considered right. Her life changed when she began to follow Jesus; radical grace complemented tough, gritty truth.

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The church I grew up attending had a special communion service. Fresh loaves of bread sat out in the front of the sanctuary. The pastor gave instructions to take the bread and find a person who you might have offended or needed to forgive. It became a tangible way for the church to practice forgiveness as Jesus taught.

On that particular night, Grandma approached the front. She took the loaf and turned to the pastor, “I have felt bothered and upset at you, and I would like to ask for forgiveness.” As they broke bread together, tears began to roll down their faces.

I have heard that story from my Grandma a dozen times. When she talks about that pastor, I can hear her admiration for him. It has become a powerful picture to me of forgiveness.

Consider the night that Jesus gave communion to His disciples. He broke bread with a man who would betray him. Another person would deny him. Almost all of them would abandon him. After Jesus had resurrected, he broke bread with these very same people for their reconciliation. The Savior, who taught on forgiveness, practice it to the people who hurt him.

The Gospel motivates us to break bread because Jesus has graciously broken bread for us. Breaking bread means putting aside our desire for revenge. It moves us from bitterness to compassion. And in a simple act of eating to stay alive, we come to see that we all need grace from our Savior.

Imagine a community of people who sought reconciliation instead constant bickering. People would see the love of Christ at dinner tables and perhaps the literal act of breaking bread like my Grandma. Sometimes before our tough conversations, we simply need a meal together.

Who has God called you to break bread with today? Maybe, you can take the first step of reconciliation like what Jesus has done for you.

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

Bridge Building & Wall Building

Embrace your critics. You may have heard several iterations of this axiom from books, articles, and speakers. We desire to grow in how we interact with difficult people, our opposites, and even enemies. Then the conflict comes, or the blunt feedback hits us from them. Rather than looking to embrace, it seems easier to exclude.

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You and I have a choice when we come to these relationships, will we build bridges or walls?

No matter what the current best practice resources say, our natural tendency can desire to shut these people out of our lives or ready ourselves for an unhelpful argument. In the moment, we want to take revenge or find justice. Rarely does this help in the long run.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says in Matthew 5:44, “…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” You may have heard this verse a thousand times, but take a moment to consider it with fresh eyes.

The audience listening to Jesus’ teaching faced the injustice of the Roman government, especially taxation. In the previous verses, Jesus calls them not to retaliate and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). Not an easy task in the midst of mistreatment. Jesus called these people run against their natural tendency of building walls and build bridges towards other people.

Not only did Jesus teach this verse, but He lived it out. His death and resurrection provided us grace as a bridge to Him. That’s the Gospel, the Good News.

So when we face the critics, difficult people, and even enemies, how can we build bridges rather than following our natural tendency to build walls? Here are three ideas.

1. Wall building assumes the worst. Bridge building assumes the best.

Conflicts can result from us placing assumptions on other people. We think that they are out to get us, or they intentionally want to thwart us. At times, it can happen. Many times people have acted with positive intentions that they did not mean to affect us negatively. Looking to assume the best of a person allows us to see their perspective and then have a dialogue to share our perspective.

2. Wall building focuses on disagreements. Bridge building finds common ground.

People have different beliefs, convictions, and personalities. Before we go on in an argument, find the common ground. What areas can we agree? Starting from this place can encourage reconciliation and a mutual resolution.

3. Wall building pleads a case. Bridge building seeks personal blind spots.

When we plead our case, it becomes an us verse them. You and I will vent to others hoping they agree with us while continuing to increase the distance from the other person. Building bridges means asking, what do I not see about myself? We can begin to pray seeking God’s help see our motivations of our hearts.

You might find yourself in the midst of a challenging relationship. Consider the example Jesus and ask Him for wisdom. Find a trusted friend to help you recognize your blind spots.

What other ways can you build bridges instead of walls in your relationships?

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Forgiveness | Guest Post by Scott Savage

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Today’s guest post comes Scott Savage. He serves as a Teaching Pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church. His family includes his wife Danalyn and three toddlers. I met Scott last summer at a family get together, because our wives are cousins. You can follow his blog at http://www.scottsavagelive.com/.

Have you ever watched anything on the Animal Planet channel? You know, one of those scenes where a pack of lions attacks

I saw a similar scene one day when I was looking for new jeans. I drove to a shopping center near my apartment in Central Phoenix. The strip mall houses a Last Chance store. Last Chance is an outlet for Nordstroms, a high-end department store. Nordstroms sends their unsold goods to a few Last Chance stores around the United States, where one can find high-end garments at ridiculously low prices. Items you’d pay $100 or more for in Nordstroms, you can pick up for $15 or $20. I read a newspaper article a couple of years ago about Last Chance customers who make tens of thousands of dollars each year buying items at Last Chance and reselling them online.

Purses are popular items to flip, but shoes and suits can be steals too. My wife refuses to shop there – the tightness of the racks and the crowds of people stress her out. I love going – to people watch as much as to hunt for deals.

On the visit I mentioned earlier, I had a remarkable experience. As I came down the escalator, I saw a group of women descend on a recently opened stash of Coach brand purses. They were like the pack of lions I witnessed on Animal Planet. Where was Morgan Freeman to give commentary? Soon security intervened between the two women.

The reaction of the women reminds me of the way we often respond to the idea of forgiveness. Several years ago, I led a teaching series on forgiveness as a college pastor. I felt like it was a relevant topic, but I didn’t expect it to be such a divisive one too. If you had observed the discussion which followed my talk, you would’ve thought I had suggested the world was flat. The feedback was intense!

I had been working with many of these students for years. I thought I knew them, many of them were mellow, even reserved in group discussion. However, suggesting they forgive the people who wounded them seemed unreasonable. I learned a lot from that teaching series and discussion group. I’ve been studying human responses to forgiveness ever since.

One of my takeaways from my study has been nearly everyone has someone they’re struggling to forgive. Almost all of us have hangups about forgiveness. In first discussion session with my students, Matt couldn’t stomach forgiveness because he felt like he had to forget the wrongs done to him. Elizabeth felt it was a lot more complicated than just deciding to say, “I forgive you.” She had said those words but still felt like she hadn’t truly forgiven the other person. Michael couldn’t imagine reconciling with a girl who hurt him. Therefore, he couldn’t forgive her because he saw them as inseparable.

How about you? Do you have someone you’re struggling to forgive?

I believe one of our greatest stumbling blocks to true forgiveness are the myths we believe. Matt, Elizabeth, and Michael struggled to forgive because they believed myths about forgiveness. They said, “if this is what forgiveness means, then I cannot forgive.” If I had a time machine and could go back in time, I’d respond differently to them. I would say, “if that’s what forgiveness means, I wouldn’t forgive either. But I think you misunderstand forgiveness.”

If you’re struggling to forgive, I wonder what your stumbling blocks are. Why can’t you get over the hump? I’m curious if a forgiveness myth stands in your way, as it did for my students.

Over the last couple years, I began assembling a list of forgiveness myths I heard from people. The list now includes ten myths which have kept people I love from discovering the freedom of forgiveness. I believe the tragedy of unforgiveness is that we end up missing out while those who hurt us move in with their lives.

Anne Lammott, a writer, once said, “Refusing to forgive is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.” Unforgiveness is toxic, for us not for those who wounded us.

I wrote my new ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality, for all the people I’ve talked to since that original college discussion group. I don’t want any of us to miss out on the freedom we can discover when we forgive. What a tragedy it would be if we avoided forgiveness only to find we were avoiding a myth, not the real thing!

As a thank you to Peter for allowing me to share on his site, I’d like to give you a free copy of Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality. Click here to get your free copy. My prayer is you’ll unearth the myths you’ve been duped into believing and discover the reality of true forgiveness. You deserve the freedom which comes when you forgive.

Photo credit by m0851.

When Conflicts Turn

Gridlock materializes in conflict when two parties cannot find common ground. People stubbornly stand in their spot or even move farther apart. Often, seemingly unassuming issues become enormous challenges because people cannot make progress towards each other in a disagreement.

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As I look back at the conflicts in my life, I notice a reoccurring theme. Conflicts turned the moment I moved from rationalizing my rightness of position to moving towards understanding the other person. It took stepping into their perspective and relinquishing a need to defend my point of view.

90% of conflict is understanding the other person, and 10% is about being right and wrong.

In the heat of the argument, we want validation of our correctness. Two immovable people in the midst of a disagreement trying to find a resolution results in gridlock. Both vying to win the debate as opposed to finding common ground.

How can we turn conflict from being right and wrong to understanding each other? Here are a few ideas to consider.

1. Listen without Interruptions.

Nothing raises the level of contention than not letting a person finish their thought. You can see the escalation of frustrations like presidential candidates raising their voices for airtime in a debate. Listening can calm a situation. It allows a person to speak their mind. Then they can sense the value of you attempting to understand.

2. Play it back.

A phrase I often hear from my wife and appreciate her saying is, “So what I think I hear you saying is…” That means you have not only listened to the information, but you have processed what a person said into understanding. You have attempted to play back what they have told you.

3. Stop using “But.”

The word “but” negates. You can play back everything to a person, then using “but” signals your view is coming. We know the feeling of hearing an apology with, “I’m sorry, but…” Instead, wait to interject your perspective until the person has felt heard.

4. Use patience.

We want to resolve conflict quickly, but it may take more time than you think. In understanding the person, you may want to take the time to respond with your perspective. A person just sharing their frustration might not be ready to hear the other side. Pray with each other asking for God’s help. Then set up a follow-up time.

The way we handle conflict reveals to how we understand the Gospel in our lives and grace of Jesus. Consider 1 Peter 3:8-9:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

How have you learned to turn conflict by understanding the other person? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Tomohiko Nogi.

Rough Edges

Certain relationships change us. These friends, family members, significant others, and coworkers cause us to have perspective. In a merciful way, they tell us the truth that few will while still encouraging us. By observing how they relate to us, we become better at relating to others. They help us smooth out our rough edges.

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The rough edges represent the areas of our lives that Christ’s grace has work to smooth. The times we want to get even rather than forgiveness. It becomes present at our stubbornness. In conversation, we try to win the argument as opposed to hearing what the other person.

Rough edges remind us of the tension we live in of the old self and new self. Seeing the characteristics of Christ in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. Recognizing the work God still has to do in us.

So He brings people into our lives to speak the truth in love. Scripture invites to reflect on our hearts and actions. In the midst of prayer, taking the time to confess to God and even others those areas where we have fallen short.

My wife Robyn has become a person who has helped me smooth the rough edges in my life. Over the years, I have noticed the small transformations from her influence; moving from interrupting to listening, seeing conflicts from both sides, and responding with kindness rather than reacting in frustration.

Allowing God to smooth the rough edges means having more attentiveness to our lives. Seeing how people relate to us and observing how we handle challenges. Then His grace motivates us to change.

It feels like the tedious work of sanding or buffing. Gradually, our rough edges become the places where people experience Christ’s presence.

What rough edges in your life will God’s grace have to smooth? Who has God placed in your life to help you grow?

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

When to Walk Away

I have come to appreciate my wife Robyn’s wisdom. Often, people will ask for her perspective. It comes with a territory as a professional counselor. Last week, a person asked her about handling disagreements.

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As Robyn responded to the question, she shared a thoughtful piece of wisdom, “Sometimes in the heat of the disagreement, we need to kindly walk away and then plan on coming back to the conversation.”

Walking away from a conversation means recognizing gridlock, neither of us can hear the other in the present moment. So we agree to finish the conversation later in affirmation of each other. With a little time and perhaps even perspective from another we can have a more productive conversation.

How many times have we dug our heels into a disagreement? We defend our viewpoint. The other person supports theirs. No person moving towards the other in understanding, but, on the contrary, the debate escalates with no sign of working together.

Rather than digging our heels into the ground, we can learn the moment to walk away. Not out of anger, but out of the realization that sometimes both people need space. Then we can come back to the conversation with grace and understanding for each other.

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

I heard this verse frequently recited growing up. A person in a wise, gentle tone would say, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Ephesians 4:26 sounded like idyllic relational advice. You can imagine a couple of fifty years of marriage mentioning this verse as advice. Scripture passages like this make sense until you find yourself in the heat of the moment.

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Anger rarely meets us at predictable times. We experience frustrations for a variety of reasons. Our plans get re-routed. People say hurtful words. You and I can get forgotten or overlooked. A simple gaze of the political banter on social media can inflict rage on us.

The question for us has less to do with, “Will we get angry?” but rather, “How we will respond to the anger?”

Paul in Ephesians communicates the realities of Christ with us. The Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection, revolutionize our relationships. Through the grace He has offered us in forgiveness, we can extend the love He has offered to us to each other. The Gospel transforms our reaction to anger.

I sometimes think we make assumptions about verses like Ephesians 4:26 without unpacking what it means for our lives. Klyne Snodgrass in his Commentary on Ephesians makes this observation:

The text (Eph. 4:25-27) assumes that people will make us angry, but anger must not take up residence. If given a place, it infects and mutates into further resentment and hostility. If given the place, it becomes the avenue the devil uses to cause sin. For that reason, it must be shown the door rather quickly.

The passage does not deny our experience of anger; rather it calls us not to let anger fester. As one of my professors Dr. Ron Hall would say, “We deal with these issues as close to the occurrence as possible.”

Anger left unchecked in our lives can lead us to other sins:
Holding a grudge and remaining bitter towards another.
Taking revenge.
Gossiping about other people.
Lacking kindness in our response to other people.
Often, it can place our interests above others.

So what does it look like to not let anger fester? I used to make the assumption that I had to resolve conflicts right at the moment. Sometimes that makes sense to applying this verse.

Other times though not letting the sun go down on your anger means taking space in the heat of the argument. Instead of further escalation, we recognize that we cannot resolve the issue in our current situation. Both people realize that they need time to calm down and then continue the discussion on a resolution.

The wisdom of this verse requires us recognizing our pattern of anger. Christ’s grace helps us not give into our adverse reactions and passive aggressiveness. On the contrary, knowing the truth about ourselves especially what jolts us halts us from making poor decisions. We can ask Christ and trusted friends to help see the situation clearly as opposed to being swayed by our emotions.

What anger has festered in your life? How has Christ challenged you not to let the sun go down on your anger? You may want to take the time to read and reflect on Ephesians 4:25-26.

Photo credit by Kasper Bertelsen.

MLK Day 2016: A Prayer

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Today, we remember the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His life embodied Your words on the Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
He had the audacity to believe that You bless those who repay evil with good, rather than evil.

Almost fifty years have passed since King’s death, and we still face similar issues.
At times, we have overlooked injustices.
We sometimes lack the compassion to walk in another’s pain.
Political affiliations separate us from each other.
It seems now more than ever; we need the peace that You offer.

Lord, forgive us.
Forgive us for not seeing each other as created in Your Image.
Forgive us for continuing the fight rather than seeking reconciliation.
Forgive us for not practicing presence by listening to others.
Forgive us for not moving towards each other in love.

The Gospel reminds us that You bring peace.
Though sin alienated us, You brought us near through Your grace.
Thus, You removed the wall that divides us from each other.
We stand at the same level at the foot of the cross.
We realize the message of the Gospel brings us closer to You and each other.
You are our peace.

Give us hearts motivated to bring peace.
Move us to have empathy for each other.
Teach how to extend the grace you have freely given to us to each other.
Let us love each other in words and deeds.

Prince of Peace rule in our hearts and lives.
Let us reflect on this day how to embody Your peace and reconciliation in remembering the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo credit by Michael Wilson.

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