Some how-to’s on Forgiving the Jerk who hurt you-

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses- Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Let’s be real. 

Hard things are hard and God asks His kids to do a lot of legitimately hard things. Jesus followers are called to love the unlovable, exercise self-control in the most unjust of circumstances and do good things to and for those who mistreat them (Luke 6:27 12:17-19, 1st Peter 3:17, Matthew 5:44). 

However.

Without question the hardest of all the hard things God’s kids are called to do is to forgive. The New Testament passages that mandate total forgiveness are insanely comprehensive and leave no legitimate wiggle-room for compromise (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, 1st Peter 2:18-21). These requirements go so far as to teach that our being forgiven by God hinges on our willingness to forgive others.  Furthermore, Hebrews 12:15 tells us that if unforgiveness is allowed to harden into bitterness that bitterness will not just defile (taint, corrupt, ruin) the bitter person but the people they love as well. 

Sigh. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years or so I have been “blessed” with several “opportunities” to forgive people who really did not deserve to be forgiven. Mostly because few of them were actually sorry for what they did. These were not small slights like having my feelings hurt, being overlooked in a social situation or being ignored by someone I felt should care about me. Each experience was extremely personal and painful.  I am not going to share the details of any of them. All you really need to know is that all the situations demanded more of me than I honestly thought I was capable of giving at the time. 

Through all that I learned there are steps that must be followed for the process of forgiveness to work itself out. These things don’t need to be done in a particular order. However, if any parts of the process are skipped or glossed over the forgiveness will be incomplete and our feelings towards the person who hurt us will harden into bitterness. 

 Following are the steps to forgiving others:

Recognize that forgiveness is a process rather than an event- 

Forgiving really big offenses is rarely, if ever, a one and done. Forgiveness begins with the choice to forgive. However, that choice must be followed by a commitment to do the work necessary to truly move on from the hurt. The length of time it takes to work through the process depends on many things including the level of hurt involved and the maturity of the person who was hurt. 

Ask God to help you-

Any reasonably mature adult can forgive a social slight or a minor offense easily.  However, there are some hurts and offenses so grievous that even the most spiritually mature people cannot forgive them without God’s help.  

Allow yourself to feel the impact of the hurt-

Anytime I hear someone who has just experienced a hurt at the hands of an evil person say “I forgive them”. My heart breaks for that person because I know they aren’t Jesus and Jesus is the only person who ever lived who is truly capable of forgiving an act of evil without first sorting through their feelings about the situation (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is hard because it is the act of surrendering the right we all feel we have to hold people accountable for sinning against us. Feeling the impact of hurt is painful. Therefore, it is tempting to simply utter the words “I forgive” without counting the cost and really working through how we feel about the person who hurt us. If we skip this step we will likely find that the feelings of forgiveness do not last long.    All that being said, it is critical that we don’t get stuck in this step because if we do bitterness is inevitable. 

Find a person to help you process- 

God designed the human race in such a way that people need people (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded to comfort the hurting and to mourn with those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, 1st Thessalonians 2:11-12, Romans 12:15). No one needs comfort more or is mourning harder than someone who is processing a huge injustice.  If you are hurting find a Christian counselor, Pastor or mature Christian friend who can walk you through the process. If you happen to be in a good place right now commit yourself to being the person who helps someone when they need comfort. 

Pray daily for the person who hurt you- 

Pray God blesses the person who hurt you. This one sucks the most, but thankfully you don’t need to pray they will be blessed with a million dollars or a new car. Instead, ask God to make them more self-aware so they will know how their actions are affecting others.  Ask God to do whatever needs to be done in their lives for them to grow into the best version of themselves possible (Luke 6:28). Keep praying those prayers until you feel freed from any bitterness you feel towards the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is never easy and almost always painful but it is worth the pain because unforgiveness makes it impossible for us to grow and change.  Authentic forgiveness frees us from the mental bondage of thinking about the person who hurt us all the time. This frees us up to focus on the things that will empower us to become the people God wants us to be and freedom is worth it.   

Why it’s Critical We Get Free of the Past-

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

  I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the way church was once done.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2nd Timothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. No one in history has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing things (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a very real sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

How to Recover from a Serious case of Church-hurt-

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Anyone who has gone to church knows church-hurt is a real thing.

 It comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s born out of something as basic as unresolved conflict or disagreement or feeling overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed cared about us. Church-hurt happens when we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group we wanted to be a part of. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church-hurt comes at the hands of bad pastors and false teachers, who use their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for (Isaiah 56:11, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9).There is a special place of punishment for those kinds of leaders (Jude 4-16).

 How deeply we are wounded by church-hurt depends on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when we were hurt, our over-all maturity level at the time of the offense, who hurt us (pastor vs. lay person) the seriousness of the hurt and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt. 

 I am convinced church-hurt is the leading cause of church dropouts. I have been in church long enough to know church-hurt is inevitable. Anytime sinners are in close proximity to one another there is going to be hurt and pain. That said, hurt does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why one gets hurt in church is far less important than how one handles the hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore church dropouts, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church-hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

This is without question the one that matters the most.  Healing from church-hurt can only occur if we understand and embrace the reality that God is not the CAUSE of our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church-hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He literally had nothing do with.

 Honestly evaluate the level of hurt that occurred-

 Some things are never okay. No one should ever causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse at the hands of a church leader just “get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual and spiritual abuse) require special attention, care and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church-hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and super painful, but that need to be put in perspective and forgiven quickly. Not for the sake of the person who hurt us, but for the sake of our own mental and spiritual health. It is critical we remember, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean a person will never be rude, stuck-up, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time. Therefore, we ought to give grace accordingly and move-on (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we suffer especially when the hurt is at the hands of someone who ought to know better and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy or spiritually wise to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Choosing to stay stuck in anger (and yes, it is a choice) inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness is guaranteed to ruins us for every good thing God has for us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Remember, forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church-hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were New Testament believers who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. You can too. 

I promise.

When God Calls You to Love a Jerk

To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV

 Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.

 Why on earth wouldn’t we?

 In a world that is increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone likes discussing. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone. However, no one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.

 That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog piece posted on the Internet clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people, we struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.

 The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve, mostly because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).

 This is quite obviously easier said than done.

 There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.

 Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.

 Sigh.    

 Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.

 Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk. Even Christians are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.

 Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually.

 Sigh.

 If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us.

 Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.

 Bonus.

 Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.

 Love is an action.

 

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.