Forgiveness is NOT a New Concept

Seems to me I’m hearing a lot about the importance of forgiveness these days.  Nothing wrong with that.  God knows we need to get hold of the concept, practice it, teach it to our children.  But it’s being talked about as if no one ever realized until now just how important it is, and that’s amazing to me.

Forgiveness is as old as Adam and Eve and their first sin against God. He forgave them–but there were consequences.  There always are consequences.

I’m afraid we didn’t do a stellar job of teaching our own kids how to forgive and accept forgiveness, and neither did my parents.  I had to learn it the hard way, after I was all grown up and should have been past the anger and bitterness that accompanies an unforgiving spirit.  Someone has said that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the person who hurt you will die.

There is a ton of bitterness that walks into my office.  People are so hurt, so angry, so bitter.  They are locked in a prison of their own making because, even when they think they have forgiven, they have failed to go past the words “I forgive you,” not making application of those words in their attitudes, actions, and relationships. They often do not understand that failing to truly forgive one person will spill over into all their other relationships like radioactive fallout, slowly eating away at their lives until they find themselves alone and lonely, and not understanding why.

That is when the 100% words come into play. “No one understands me. Everyone is against me. I always get the shaft. I never seem to come out on top. ”

In Ephesians 4:32, Paul wrote, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”Image result for Ephesians 4:32

I had to learn that forgiveness was really between God and me, and not necessarily between me and the person(s) who hurt me.  Often, the person against whom we hold bitterness is blithely unaware–or chooses to be unaware–of the pain we suffer.  Confronting the offender is often impossible because he/she is already dead; or the distance is too great.  Perhaps you really don’t want the person in your life, and that’s okay as long as there is very little chance of you ever being together in the same place at the same time.  You don’t have to confront someone face-to-face in order to forgive him. Just understand that as long as you withhold forgiveness, that person is still controlling your emotions.  It simply doesn’t make sense to allow that to continue.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event.  You may finally come to a place of brokenness before God, and you choose to release the offender from the debt. You choose to give up your right to demand justice. You are relieved, released, and rejoicing.  And then, WHAM!  out of nowhere, a memory comes flooding back along with all the emotions, and you’re floundering, drowning in discouragement because you thought you had settled it.

That’s when you have to forgive again, seventy times seven, as long as it takes.  What I have learned is that the more often you learn to quickly forgive again, as time goes on, you will need to forgive less and less because you are practicing forgiveness. After a while, you get pretty good at it.  The painful memories come less frequently, and when they do arise like snakes from under a rock, you kill them before they have a chance to poison you again.

Does forgiving someone mean that he gets away with whatever he did?  Does it mean you have to continue to tolerate abuse?  No, and no. The offender will answer to God unless he seeks forgiveness.  As for tolerating further mistreatment, no, of course not. Abuse is never acceptable.  We all need to establish boundaries that, if crossed, will result in the loss of an active relationship. These boundaries need to be made clear to the person who has invaded your space before, treating you with condescension or cruelty. No one has to accept that.

We do have to accept, however, that some people seem to just be incapable of changing their behaviors, ignoring your boundaries. They are so full of themselves that they cannot–will not–acknowledge that you have a right to set your own boundaries.

You don’t have to accommodate their obtuse arrogance. Stay away. There are toxic people who will drip poison into your heart and mind if they get anywhere near you, and then try to convince you that it’s all your fault. All we can do with those poor folks is pray for them, and stay away from them. Kindly. Not returning spite for spite.

So, there now.  I’ve added–once again–my voice to the many others out there who are trying to embrace, practice, and teach forgiveness as well as seeking forgiveness from those they themselves have hurt.

Remember that we are to be becoming Christlike. He is the best forgiver in the history of the world.

 

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It’s Not Helpful!

I’ve been having a rather lengthy  Facebook conversation with some former students of mine, including one of my sons.  I guess it’s not surprising that it has taken  the form of a blog post in my head, so here it is.

Believers, Christians, often experience awful, horrible, heartbreaking events. Babies die, husbands or wives leave, life-threatening illnesses occur,  violent crime takes away our feelings of safety, value, and belief in God Himself. Severe persecution in some parts of the world  threatens believers every single day, and there is no escape from it.

These hurting people often cry out, “Why?  Why are these things happening?  Where is God?  Why is He allowing this?”  Some will get answers from well-meaning people, but those answers only serve to increase their sense of helplessness and abandonment.

One of those answers, which has become ubiquitous  lately, is,”Well, everything happens for a reason.”  And that is supposed to heal the wounds, soothe the heartache, and remove the grief.

It’s a vague, formless answer that carries very little power to help. In fact, it can create even more hurt because the suffering ones can’t find that elusive reason, and they just don’t understand. It has a sort of  New Age kharmic feel about it, because it is non-specific and indicates a vague faith in. . . . well, I’m really not sure. No person, no god, no ultimate arbiter of life events is mentioned.  Just that somewhere out there sits something or someone who orchestrates terrible events in our lives for some non-specified reason.

It makes no sense to me.

So, why DO bad things happen?

For me, the answer is both simple and complex.  My worldview is biblical.  I believe that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is holy, just, and sovereign; He is loving, merciful, and gracious. He cannot look on evil, so He provided the only possible perfect sacrifice to cleanse sin in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit of God, born of a pure, virgin girl who was in the line of King David.  Jesus was the One Whose blood could cleanse sin, and Whose resurrection could provide victory over sin and death. You can read all about Him in the four gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Why did God do all that?  So that we could find salvation and spend eternity with Him, because He loves us.  All of us.

Why doesn’t He, then, protect us from terrible events?

Because it’s not His job to do so. He never said He would.  What He did promise is that He would walk through the valley of the shadow of death with us (Psalm 23).  He promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb, 13:5). He promised to be with us to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:20).He never promised to prevent harm; He did promise to help us endure it.

Bad things happen because we live in a sinful, fallen world (Genesis 1-3). Satan is real. Evil is real. Jesus said that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust ( Matt: 5:45).

To accuse God of bringing evil into our lives is to believe the exact opposite of His true character. To demand that God should have prevented whatever happened is to demand that He conform to our wishes.

The Apostle Paul suffered greatly for his faith. Near the end of his life, knowing he was facing a painful and horrifying death, he said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).  He did not complain about all the beatings, the stoning, the shipwreck, the snakebite, the imprisonment.  He accepted it as the price for his preaching the gospel wherever God sent him, and he rejoiced always because he knew God was always with him (Phil 4:4-5).

I know this is longer than my normal posts.  Just one more thing, and I’m done.

Instead of asking “Why,” we would do much better to ask for the what and the how. 

What can I learn from what has happened?  How can I begin to heal, or if necessary, to forgive, and move on from here? How can I use this to learn and grow, and to help someone else who is hurting?  How can I be a channel of blessing, showing the love of God to those around me in spite of the trouble that has beset me?

After all, no one suffered more unjustly than Jesus did.  He was the perfect Man, Who never sinned. Yet God allowed Him “to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).

Please don’t accuse and blame God for the work of Satan.  Put the blame squarely where it belongs.  Satan’s whole purpose is to destroy all that God loves.  Evil does exist, and it finds all of us to one degree or another.  No one is immune.  God’s job is NOT to prevent all believers from ever suffering harm and evil. It is not His fault that we suffer.

“Everything happens for a reason”  is not helpful. It just makes the sufferer feel more confused, and removes permission for that person to grieve. Instead of saying that, tell the person how sorry your are for his pain, and find some way to be helpful, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

 

A Little Encouragement

Psalm 39:1-3. “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.”

The bridle in this verse is like a muzzle you would put on a dog to keep it from barking.

If we can muzzle our mouths so that we don’t sin with our words, we will also reduce the likelihood of sinning in other ways.  The tongue is such an unruly member, and has created worlds of hurt.Even when we are speaking truth, we need to be careful not to sin. Truth can be spoken with malice, and with the intent to do harm.

In this awful political season here in America, words have filled the airways, print journalism, and cyberspace. Words have been used to slander, to accuse, to participate in petty name-calling. It’s shameful.  I will be SO glad when it’s over, although no matter which candidate wins, I don’t imagine the carping and complaining will stop.

Christians  need to be careful, even when our hearts burn within us, that when we speak, we speak with both grace and truth.  There is much in this campaign to stir up my own desire to come roaring out of my corner and set everything straight, believe me.

Sometimes, though, it is better to put a muzzle on my mouth so that I avoid sinning.

Proverbs 20:1 says that the heart of the king (ruler, leaders) is in the hand of God, and He can turn that heart wherever He chooses.

Trust that. God is not at the mercy of politicians.

Goals

Yesterday was a big day.  I didn’t do my Friday Counseling post, just wasn’t in the mood for it.  However,  may this post will take its place.

Two things.  Yesterday I did 30 laps in the pool.  Three more, and I’ll be doing a mile.  That’s a very big deal for his not-so-young non-athlete!

(This isn’t me 🙂  She’s got my by almost 20 years, and she’s still swimming. Awesome!)

The second goal I’m happy about is that I’ve now gone over 100,000 hits on this blog!  I’m amazed, thankful, very happy.  I’d continue writing even if there were no hits, because it’s important to me and I believe it honors God.  But it’s very gratifying to know that others are reading and, I hope, being blessed.

So while I was swimming yesterday (it took me 75 minutes!)  I had a lot of time to think. I thought about how wonderful water is.  We would die without it. Our bodies are largely water. We need it to drink, to cook, to clean ourselves and our possessions; we need it to grow food and flowers, and often we use it for transport and sports and just for fun.

I thought about the therapy I use for trauma.  EMDR is something I’ve written about before. One of the things we do is to establish a “safe place” in the client’s mind.  He can use his safe place any time, but in session we use it as a place for him to calm down, relax, and regather himself when the therapy becomes too difficult.  The safe place is anywhere that, when you go there, you feel calm, safe, at peace.  People choose a variety of places, but the most popular by far is the ocean.  The rhythm of the surf, the beauty, the water.  Water is in almost everyone’s safe place, whether it is a lake, river, stream, pond, or waterfall.  Water is relaxing.

Jesus gave living water to the woman at the well.  He told her that if she would drink of the water He gave her, she would never thirst again.  He is the Living Water.  In Him there is peace, safety, calm, and healing for the soul.

Water of Life.  And those are some of the things I was thinking about as I swam yesterday.

Pause

The next few verses in ourEphesians study need some careful research.  I’ve heard and read these verses taught several different ways, and I want to give them the most accurate treatment I can, so I’m going to put a hold on that until next week.  Also, I don’t want to start on this passage and then not finish it until next week, so I’m stepping away from it until Monday.

Here’s a meme that caught my eye and my interest this morning: Tired

I have commented many times that there are two things people are seeking when they come to my office:  Hope and peace.  Hope that things can and will improve, and the inner peace that will allow them to rest, to sleep, and to get through their days without falling apart.

The hope I can offer them is Jesus Christ.

The peace I can offer them is Jesus Christ.

Of course, there are many ways I go about it.  We are what we think (Proverbs 23:7).  It is what we believe, what we think about, that motivates our emotions and behaviors.  If one believes that life is dire and nothing but trouble, then he will be Eeyore.  In the story illustrations, Eeeyore is actually kind of cute and loveable.  Believe me,  cute and loveable are not the characteristics that a persistent Eeyore is known for.  So I try to help those people examine their negative thinking patterns and learn to control them in a more positive (biblical) direction.

Peace comes only when we accept a few basic principles:  You can’t control what other people say or do.  It’s not your job.  You can only control how you react to others.  That is your job.  What other people say about you is none of your business.  What a relief it is to really get hold of that one and to quit wondering and worrying about what other people think.  Not your job. Stop it!

Finally, true peace comes from learning Philippians 4:4-8.  We are told that when we stop worrying and start praying about everything, with grateful hearts and a begging demeanor, we will have the peace that passes understanding.

There will always be trouble.  There will always be people in your life who have no good will toward you. There will always be loss and heartbreak.

There will always be Satan’s attempt to thwart the purposes of God, and sometimes believers bear the brunt of Satan’s evil.  Don’t worry.  Our future is secure with God, and He will have the final victory.

Isaiah 26:3.  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.”

Psalm 119:165. “Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”