Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Consequence Clarified

Have you wrestled through the whole issue of forgiveness?  This wasn't really an issue for me before I became a Christian, but then after becoming a Christian I started to believe we were to forgive with reckless abandon regardless of the situation.  As I wrestled through the application of forgiveness Jesus' words to Peter often surfaced, "I do not say to you, up to seven times [speaking of forgiveness], but up to seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21).  This presented some pain for me as I thought the Christian was to become a human punching bag by enabling an endless cycle of abuse followed by forgiveness.

Clearly the Christian has been forgiven much and should forgive as they have been forgiven by Christ (Ephesians 4:32).  This point is clear.  But what exactly is forgiveness?  I have heard that forgiveness is releasing the person who wronged you from owing you anything.  I get this as ultimately it helps you not to become an embittered person.  But does one-sided forgiveness result in reconciliation?  I think it is at this point where we often miss the mark because we think one-sided forgiveness should result in reconciliation, but most times it does not.

I find it interesting that the above quote by Jesus to forgive 70 times is found in the context of disciplining one in sin (see Matt. 18:15-20).  This is helpful to me as the context gives instructions for how do deal with someone in sin.  This is a flowchart to follow in disciplining the one in sin.  Jesus clearly instructs an escalation of consequence for the person refusing to repent.  If repentance doesn't occur the person is to be brought before the church and then essentially excommunicated from the body.  This seems harsh by our standards today.  But Jesus concludes by affirming their decision to discipline by saying, "For where two or three have gathered [the context is NOT prayer, but disciplining a fellow believer] together in my name, I am there in their midst" (Matt. 18:20).  Clearly the aim of discipline is reconciliation, but reconciliation seems dependent on repentance.  One's failure to repent often results in the consequence of a broken relationship.

I love the instruction the Apostle Paul gives in Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."  This is our aim.  The Christian's hearts desire should be to be at peace with all people.  This isn't always possible.  If someone has wronged you, you should seek them out with an aim of reconciling this problem.  This might fail.  At this point involving a mediator can be beneficial, but still might not result in reconciliation.  Regardless of how hard you try the other person may never truly repent and make amends toward reconciliation resulting in the consequence of a damaged relationship.

Regardless of the outcome, the person wronged needs to forgive no matter how heinous the wrong.  Don't be confused at this point.  Forgiveness does not alleviate consequence.  David, a man after God's own heart committed great iniquity.  He was a forgiven man, but still suffered the loss of his son and was forbidden by God to build the temple.  Forgiving one in prison does not mean they should be relieved of serving their sentence because they have received forgiveness.  There may be people who are simply hurtful people.  You should forgive them in your heart, but you may need to distance yourself from them.  Failing to forgive results in bitterness and I have heard it said that "bitterness is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Reflections

I love watching the Olympics.  Naturally, like everyone, I prefer some sports over others.  Water sports take center stage for me.  This year the Olympic athlete I enjoyed watching was Ryan Lochte as he has had to compete in the shadows of the greatest Olympian ever.  The big event to watch was the 400IM the hardest of all swimming events.  Everyone was eager to observe Lochte and Phelps in this match-up.

In the lead up there were multiple video-montages contrasting the intensity of the Lochtes training over the last four years.  He broke from the typical training routines for swimming and took more of a CrossFit approach to core training through crazy exercises like slinging tractor tires and lifting heavy chain.  Check out this two-minute video that looks at his training.

Okay, I know this video was marketing for Gatorade, but that aside, did you see the crazy intensity of his training schedule?  Most of the commentators spoke of Phelps relying on natural talent and slacking during the four years between Beijing and London.  The results:  Lochte took the gold comfortably and Phelps did not make the medal stand.  This stuff fires me up!

I love reading passages like this one during the Olympic season:

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules." 2 Timothy 2:3-5

Paul encourages Timothy to take his service to the Lord seriously.  Not to slack.  To suffer like a soldier (which I also get fired up about) and to compete like an athlete.  What does this look like?  At the core of this is pursuing our relationship with God.  Growing closer to Him through prayer and studying of the Scriptures.  As we diligently pursue and nurture our relationship with God, opportunities to serve and to step out by faith will come.

How's your relationship with God mirror that of a soldier, athlete, or farmer (2 Tim. 2:6)?  I would encourage you to cultivate your relationship with God with intensity!  Don't hold back, go for it!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Last week, pictures circulated Facebook encouraging people to support Chick-Fil-A on August 1.  Initially, I didn’t notice the cause because it doesn’t take much to convince me to eat tasty food!  With this attitude, I shared one of the pictures with this statement: “This sounds like a great excuse to eat Chick-Fil-A to me!”  I had no idea the firestorm I was about to walk into.  I was blindsided by the outrage and attacks that came from some of my friends who hold values different than my own.

So much has been published about last week’s event that I wonder if I can actually contribute any new or pertinent ideas to this discussion.  Joe Dallas wrote “To My Angry Gay Friend” which I believe is the best Christian response to the LGBT community I have read.  I however have no intention of composing an apologetic post to last week’s event, but will attempt to express some thoughts that I think are particularly important to pastors and Christians as we navigate these interesting times.

Christ Crucified.

In this discussion, along with other hot buttons in our culture, I have seen Christian leaders opt out of the conversation for the sake keeping Christ crucified as the only message.  I agree with this position at first glance.  I certainly don’t want to minimize the Gospel—the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the jugular vein of Christianity.  It is the message of hope to a dead world whom God loves and has called us to reach.  The stance of preaching Christ crucified alone has been my response to a number issues in the past, but in all honesty I question my motives sometimes as I feel like I am hiding behind the Gospel for the sake of not having to take a controversial stance on a particular issue that is critical, sensitive, or divisive.

I guess the ultimate question at hand is does the Bible call Christians to be Switzerland (i.e. neutral and passive) on all issues outside of our message Christ crucified, or does Christ call the redeemed person to challenge the fallen culture in which they live as they proclaim Christ crucified?  In seeking to answer this question an article in Time Magazine (go figure) helped me square this issue as it relates to my calling as a pastor.  The article essentially asked Jerry Falwell how he dealt with Billy Graham’s criticisms of his political involvement.  His response was something along the lines of, “Billy Graham is an evangelist called to lead people to Christ.  I am a pastor called to lead people to maturity in Christ.”  I found this response to be helpful and insightful as it shows Billy Graham's goal was to remove all barriers outside of the Cross.  Jerry Falwell's goal was to lead people to Christ and then equip them to live out their faith in Christ.

There is a story in Acts 19 that I find particularly relevant to the debate in our land today.  If you don’t remember this story, let me refresh your memory here.  Paul had entered into Ephesus, and ministered there for about two years (Acts 19:10).  God used Paul’s ministry in a mighty way.  Many came to Christ and lives were transformed.  Their lifestyles changed and it affected the local economy radically.  One of the local businessmen was financially devastated because so many of his clients accepted Jesus as Lord.  He pulled the "silversmith union" together try to stop the Gospel because it had utterly destroyed his industry and livelihood (Acts 19:27) as the Christians essentially boycotted their services.  This is a story that clearly demonstrates the Gospel penetrates further than the soul of the individual it saved, but to everything touched by the saved individual.  The Bible seems to encourage believers to give preference of doing good to those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).  Maybe it isn't even an intentional action by a group of believers, but rather an organic byproduct of a group of people living according to Kingdom standards as revealed in the Scriptures?  Nonetheless, it seems to me the whole August 1 event was a display of support and blessing a corporation that stands for Biblical values.  Quite frankly, I was pleased to see Christians stand united for something they were for instead of the rallying against a particular cause that Christians have deemed inappropriate.

History records that the majority of people are silent as their culture is making a shift in a bad direction or towards evil.  I love what Bonhoeffer said in his context of Nazi Germany, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  The most difficult thing for me is determining which things are worth standing for and what things are not.  But I am certain that the majority of people choose silence instead of doing the right thing in the face of opposition.  Cowardice is not a Biblical virtue.  Christ instructs His followers “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11-12)

Our Citizenship.

In Philippians 3:20, Paul teaches that believers in Christ are citizens of heaven.  The lesson is clear that we live in a world filled with pain and sorrow and we are pilgrims passing through a foreign land.  I became a Christian while serving as a US Navy SEAL.  To say that I saw myself as a patriot would be an understatement.  During those early years God began to challenge my confusion, or syncretism, with my American citizenship and my new Christian citizenship.  God used the above passage to help me shape my new identity in Christ.  Does our new identity in Christ negate our earthly citizenship?  I don’t think so. Paul wrote this letter while under house arrest in Rome.  He was in Rome because he used the benefits of his Roman citizenship, as he did in a number of other places, to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11).  Clearly Paul was okay using his Roman citizenship for the sake of the Gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he instructs believers to be in “subjection to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)  American Christians, in large part, have had the easiest job in obeying this command in comparison to other believers throughout history.  The United States is a governing authority that is of the people, by the people, for the people, and was born out of strong Judeo-Christian values.  One of our greatest privileges as Americans is the right to vote.  It saddens me that so few people who are eligible to vote actually register to vote and very few of those who are registered to vote actually exercise that right.  I do believe that we as pastors should encourage believers to register and to prayerfully consider who to cast their vote toward.

Clarity Beats Agreement.

As a final word, I’ve been going crazy over statements made in the midst of this whole Chick-Fil-A discussion.  I am shocked by the attacks against Christians and even more shocked by the Biblical illiteracy of the average believer as the Bible is clear concerning God's position on homosexuality.  I would like to end with a quote from Rick Warren as it helps untangle some of the false accusations and assumptions made in this discussion.  He said, “I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone. Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”