Category Archives: forgiveness

A moral obligation to be intelligent

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34)

In his book Strength to Love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it was not merely sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; it was also ignorance. “The men who cried, ‘Crucify him,’ were not bad men but rather blind men. The jeering mob that lined the roadside that led to Calvary was not composed of evil people but of blind people. They knew not what they did. What a tragedy!”[1]

History is replete with accounts of men and women who engaged in woeful behavior based largely in either ignorance or misunderstanding. Mankind’s historical inquisitions and persecutions had strains of ignorance and intellectual blindness running through them that made their outcomes doubly tragic: they were evil, yes, but they were also uninformed. Misunderstandings of science, racial equality, mental illnesses, and many other things have led to oppression, enslavement, and misguided notions that have traumatized the human race.

We are called to be better. I think we should ponder these words from Dr. King and consider where they might apply to our perspectives and our engagement with the world: “Sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. History has proven that these noble virtues may degenerate into tragic vices. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. The church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned. But devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.”[2]

Let’s commit today to redoubling our efforts at being good, just, conscientious, and intelligent.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., 46.

Advertisements

Heart Punch

heart punchHave you ever been punched in the heart? Not your literal, physical heart, but your more vulnerable internal one? You’ll know if you have, simply by gauging your emotional reaction to the term.

Heart punch.

It’s that blow that thuds into your emotions leaving you feeling sad, sickened, and despairing all at once.

It’s a blow that is thrown by friends or close acquaintances–strangers can’t usually punch our internal heart (they don’t have access to our more vulnerable sides). And it almost always happens in the context of relationships.

Hurts, misunderstandings, and unfair accusations can lead to poorly thought out words and phrases that slam into our hearts like sledgehammers. The blows leave us feeling bewildered and angry, confused and obsessed, and virtually unable to concentrate on extraneous things. We need help in moments like those, because heart punches affect our perspective and confidence, and their effects can be very difficult to shake off.

However it can be done. Healing can occur. Either the relationship will heal and grow stronger, or YOU will heal and grow stronger besides. That’s the fist step–simply acknowledging that the heart punch isn’t the end of the story.

Poorly placed words can be retracted and repented of. Confusion can be clarified. Hurts can be expressed, owned, renounced, and repaired. Misunderstandings can give way to clarity, and the agony of the heart punch can eventually fade away.

It will help if you don’t immediately punch back. Our nature when hurt is to either withdraw or lash out. If you are a withdraw-er, you risk nursing your wounds and dying of infection, and if you’re a lash out-er, you risk inflicting damage that might not need to occur.

Although it isn’t easy to uncoil the complexities that sometimes lead to heart punches, we need to commit to trying. Remember, the ministry to which we have been called is one of reconciliation. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the efforts it requires.

What is the unforgivable sin?

Silhouette of a man kneeling with arms lifted up at the Cross of Jesus.

What is the “unforgivable sin” that Jesus talked about…and am I at risk of committing it?

What is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”…and how do I know if I’ve ever been a blasphemer?

What is the “sin that leads to death”…and how can I avoid that particular sin?

In Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 John 5:16 Jesus and the Apostle John talked about a particular sin that has some dire consequences against it. This sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–is a deadly sin with no mercy attached to it. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Spirit was an unforgivable offense both in this present life and in the age to come.

What were they talking about? What is this blasphemous, unforgivable sin that takes its perpetrators straight to death?

First, it is helpful to know what this sin is not. In Matthew 12:31 Jesus said, “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven” except for blasphemy against the Spirit of God. Therefore we know that this sin is different from every other kind of sin–including both the little presumptuous ones we commit and the gigantic heinous ones too. Indeed, the Bible is replete with stories of murderers, adulterers, and idolaters who found forgiveness in the presence of God.

Jesus defined this sin for us when He called it “blasphemy.” Blasphemy refers to angry, injurious, defiant speech leveled against God and His ways. In Matthew 12 Jesus had just demonstrated undeniable evidence that He was indeed the Son of God, but rather than repenting and following Him, the religious leaders (those to whom Jesus directed the charge of blasphemy) dubbed Him a demon-possessed fool.

The reason that this level of sheer blasphemy is unforgivable is not because God is unwilling to forgive a blasphemer, but the because the blasphemer is not willing to seek forgiveness. In 1 Timothy 1:13 the Apostle Paul said he was formerly a “blasphemer” (same Greek word that Jesus used in Matthew 12 to describe blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). The difference is that Paul repented when He encountered Jesus Christ. He ran to the cross and obtained mercy before he died.

Blasphemy against the Spirit is a clenched fist, crossed arms, defiant state of heart and mind wherein the blasphemer is presented with irrefutable proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and yet still refuses to acknowledge Him.

We don’t have to fear this sin. We can’t accidentally commit it. Stated another way, the unforgivable sin is the sin that is never confessed. Let’s live at the cross, let’s pray for our loved ones and our world to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ, and we can live without fear of the unforgivable sin.

Loved When Unlovable

love the unlovable

Do you know that you were loved in your most unlovable moments? Do you know that God loved you even when you couldn’t love yourself? Has the weight of that truth ever worked its way into your soul?

You were loved in the exact time when you were the most difficult to love.

God loved you when you hated Him (or when you were coolly indifferent to Him).

He loved you when you pulled a Jonah and sailed in the opposite direction.

He loved you before you surrendered your life to Him and began morphing into who you are today.

He loved you in your confusion, your brokenness, and your shame.

He loved you when you cheered for the wrong sports team (sorry Clippers fans).

God loved you when you were far from Him. That’s what Romans 5:8 is all about. It says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If those words are true, how have they affected our closest relationships? Do we love our loved ones in their less-than-lovely moments? Or do we only love them until those moments?

Certainly, it’s easier to love our loved ones when they’re modeling all of the things that we love best about them, but what about when the other stuff peeks through? What about those times when their lesser nature flares up? Do we love them still?

We don’t have to love their lesser nature, and we certainly don’t have to endorse what they do with it, but I hope we have enough of God’s love in us to continue loving even when it’s difficult to love.

Indeed, those are probably the only moments when love can truly be called love.

Mr. Clean

mr.cleanNo, this isn’t a self-portrait (although I’d love to have his biceps and he does rock the bald head). It’s a portrait of what I hope we are all aspiring to be.

There is nothing like knowing that we are clean.

I worked with a pastor once who was urging me to be Mr. Clean in my ministry and he said, “I’ve slept soundly with a clear conscience every night of my life.” That’s a pretty awesome testimony. And whether we can make that boast today or not, we can start living that way now so it can become our testimony tomorrow.

God has made a way for us to be clean.

The first step to being clean is to get clean.

  • We need to open the door of our inner lives to God, exposing our sin and asking for His total and complete forgiveness.
  • We need to accept His forgiveness by faith and then reject our affiliation with those sins by closing every open door that entices us to return to them.
  • We need to find a wing-man/girl to help us live in our new, cleansed identity.
  • And then we can shave our head, wear a gold hoop and buy a skin-tight T-shirt…sorry.

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (Jesus to His disciples in John 15:3).

“To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (from the Doxology of Jude 1:24)

A Workable Marriage-Counseling Template

newlywedsPer some requests, I’ve decided to post the marriage-counseling template that I shared in last Sunday’s message at Grace. As I stated in that message, when a couple asks for my help in strengthening their relationship, I urge them to gently but honestly ponder and discuss the following questions:

  1. Based on an understanding of Scripture and the desire of our heart, what would our marriage look like if it were a “10”?
  2. How does our marriage compare to that “10”? Be careful to answer this question gently, without inflicting any unnecessary wounds with your words.
  3. Where have we wounded each other?
  4. Where have we stopped “husband-ing” each other? The word “husband” used to be a verb that referenced the cultivation or tilling of land. Implied in the name husband, then, is the idea of cultivating and tending to the relationship.
  5. Where do we need to ask for and extend forgiveness?
  6. What action steps would most quickly move us toward that “10” standard? Each partner can usually list two or three simple things that, if done, would jump-start the healing and recovery process.
  7. What tools do we need to receive to begin those steps? It’s great to have an action plan, but if we don’t have the necessary tools to complete the steps, the problem will compound and we will struggle with additional feelings of failure or inadequacy.
  8. Are we full of the Holy Spirit? And if we’re not, do we now how to get full?
  9. How do we work this process while speaking nothing but “gentle”? Remember, harshness is a death sentence to a marriage relationship, but gentleness is its lifeblood. 

Cured of backsliding

Is it possible?rock climber

Is it actually a legitimate possibility to live free from the issues, angst, and strongholds that cloud our consciences, hurt our loved ones, and dull our spiritual sensitivities?

God thinks yes.

In Jeremiah 3:22 the prophet recorded God’s hope-filled promise, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

What an awesome phrase! “Cured of backsliding.” How is that possible? How do we become cured of the sins that have plagued and defeated us for a lifetime? According to Jeremiah, the cure is in the returning.

“Return…I will cure you.”

Every time we return–moving toward a place of increasing surrender and reliance on God–the cure works a little deeper into our spirit, liberating us from sin’s addictive pull. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never struggle or stumble–it means that if we are habitual returners our backsliding will never have the final word.

Jude, Jesus’ natural half-brother, said it this way. He said that God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Let’s be lifelong returners until we are characterized by the cure.