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HOW TO FORGIVE WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT

Forgiveness doesn’t come easy for me. Even as I write, I know that it won’t be long before I need to cross off another offense and I know where I fall short. I imagine it isn’t easy for many of us.

Yet Christ didn’t mess around when He said, “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).

Later in the New Testament, Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Take these two scriptures together, and it’s a tall order. Are we supposed to “forgive” because we have to? What if we don’t mean it? What good is to forgive if it isn’t sincere? According to this passage, our words and/or deeds are nothing without love.

So it’s a catch 22 – I need to obey Christ, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite. If I don’t want to be a hypocrite, I’ll wait to “feel” like it…but if I never feel like it, I’ll never forgive….

The struggle between what we should do and what we desire is nothing new, even to a strong Christian leader. Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7:18 – “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

The answer to this dilemma is that we cannot win this battle alone. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit within us. Listen to Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness.”

In the end, God is the one that energizes and empowers us to have His mind and heart on any matter, and forgiveness is not an exception. We initially obey, and in obeying, we not only comply with God’s command, but we also agree to have our hearts changed in the process.

John MacArthur said it well:

“Forgiveness is first of all an act of the will. It is not hypocrisy to will forgiveness when the emotions are screaming for vengeance. Be obedient to the Lord regardless of how you feel. If you refuse to harbor spite or dwell on the offense, evil emotions will be starved. Moreover, the Lord Himself will set your heart right. Right emotions will eventually come if you surrender to Him.”*

In closing, I want to share an account I read by Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman who was arrested and sent to a concentration camp for hiding and protecting Jews during the Nazi occupation in Holland, as she describes a very honest struggle to forgive one of her captors. It’s lengthy, but worth the read:

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands…

One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“… I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”**

Want to read more about forgiveness? Check out my soon-to-be-released Bible Study on the Book of Philemon. AnInvitatiotoForgive_FrontCover_Final_72dpi - Small 160x160

It explores other questions about the subject such as:

    • What is the character of someone who forgives?
    • On what basis should we forgive someone who has offended us?
    • What are the dynamics of forgiveness?
    • What are the purposes of God in forgiveness?

Read more here, and please fill out the form on the link if you’d like to be kept in the loop about upcoming publications and projects, as well as qualify for a chance to win a free copy!

 

* http://www.gty.org/resources/positions/P05/answering-the-hard-questions-about-forgiveness
**(excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom. Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512>).

THE CHARACTER OF ONE WHO FORGIVES

Do you hold a grudge against someone that has let you down or offended you? Are you trying to live with the tension of a broken relationship caused by someone else’s betrayal?

How do we respond to people that have hurt us? How do we even develop the character (or desire!) to forgive them?

As you may know, I’ve been knee deep in the study of the book of Philemon through the upcoming release of my Bible Study, “An Invitation to Forgive: A Study of the Book of Philemon”*.

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This simple-to-read, interactive Bible Study was written to address these questions and more. But first, what is it with this book called “Philemon”?

The Book of Philemon is a short epistle written by the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon. It is just one of many places that God’s word addresses the topic of forgiveness because it is such a need in so many of our lives. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had to forgive or be forgiven in relationships. At any rate, he wrote this letter to persuade Philemon to forgive his run-away slave, Onesimus. By running away, Onesimus broke the law and insulted Philemon, who (by all accounts) didn’t deserve to be betrayed.

We are never told, but all the studies I’ve read believe that Philemon did indeed forgive Onesimus, based not only on evidence that points to the fact that Onesimus later became a prominent priest, but also based on the description of Philemon’s character as stated in the epistle itself.

Paul writes:

“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:2)

I believe Philemon had the character and heart to forgive. Why?

1) First of all, we see that Philemon has a love and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ – he has the indwelling Holy Spirit in him, and therefore he has the ability to forgive like Christ forgave us. It would have been understandable for Philemon not to forgive Onesimus. The law was on his side, but Philemon had a love for Christ, and as a Christian, he was prepared to forgive.

2) Second, Philemon displays a love toward all the saints. The Greek word used in this phrase is “agape” love. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testimament Words, “this is a love that is proven and shown through action and not just merely words.” As described, “it seeks the welfare of all, and…the opportunity to do good to all men.” As such, we see here that Philemon had an unselfish, action-oriented and deliberate love towards others.

3) Third, Philemon effectively lived out his faith – Note Paul’s words in the NIV: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”. Paul is saying, “Philemon, I want your faith to continue to be powerful”. How is this done? “Through the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in Christ Jesus”. The Greek word for “acknowledgment” here (or “understanding” in the NIV) is the word “epignosis” which expresses a thorough participation in the acquiring of knowledge on the part of the learner, a knowledge that’s laying claim to personal involvement.1

We as Christians know that we are equipped with every spiritual blessing which is in Christ (Eph. 1:3). We know that we are given the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, to say that we know spiritual blessing by reading God’s Word is not the same as knowing the joy of yielding to the Spirit enough to live it out. That would be like saying we know how to play tennis by watching someone play tennis or sitting in on an instructional video. Until we put the racket in our hands, we cannot fully know what it is like to play tennis.

Can you relate to the “acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus”? How do you think this can be applied to circumstances that call us to forgive others?

1) W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, NJ: Barbour, 1985. Print. P. 19

     * I’ll be posting more excerpts from my book as the time comes for it’s release.I know I’ve said this before, but really, I think it will be in the next month or two!

DON’T LET ME DOWN (Encouragement and Accountability)

Dear Friends,

When I first read the book of Philemon years ago, I had no idea that it would leave such a lasting impression. Now, years later, I find myself digging into the message like a miner, discovering  gem after gem of wisdom and insight.

It’s just a simple letter from the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon, written to talk him into forgiving his run-away slave, Onesimus. It’s easy to see that forgiveness is the theme, and the way that Paul compels his friend to forgive is simply brilliant.

For starters, Paul presents himself very humbly to Philemon. Written while in a Roman prison, He addresses himself as a prisoner of Christ:

“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon, our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2) to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”(Philemon v. 1-3)

He identifies himself as a prisoner, as one who is making a huge sacrifice in his life for the sake of Christ. It was Christ’s will that put him there, not Rome. He is put in prison for a specific purpose-to evangelize, and to write the Epistles.

How do you think Philemon must have felt as he read that Paul was a prisoner for Christ? Do you think his heart sank at the words? Can you imagine the heartbreak it must have been to hear that someone so dear to him was in prison? Here he was, living in a big house (as assumed since the church at Colosse met there), enjoying his God-given wealth, all the while knowing that the great Apostle Paul didn’t even have his freedom?

What’s more, Paul calls Philemon “beloved friend and fellow laborer”.  How humbling it must have been to be put as an associate of someone so renowned!

Here we see that Paul is subtly giving Philemon a little perspective. If he, Paul, could bear the brunt of persecution and arrest, couldn’t Philemon take it upon himself to bear the smaller task that was asked of him, that is, to forgive?

Notice one more thing. Paul is writing to Philemon, but his intention is that it is read to Apphia (Philemon’s wife), Archippus (most likely his son) and the church in his house (v.2). That’s quite a group.

Because Philemon was so well known, Paul wanted his concern for him to be known to his church, so that they may be there to hold him accountable and also be mindful of their own conduct.

Even though it is unpleasant, wouldn’t we want to be a part of a church body that cares enough to speak the truth in love or would we rather be left alone by a church that is unconcerned with our well-being? Paul was lovingly acting in the role he was called as an apostle of Christ when he made this issue known.

So here we already see a brilliant combination of commendation and yet accountability. It was a case for forgiveness. And that’s just the beginning!*

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*Excerpt taken from my soon-to-be released Bible Study, “An Invitation to Forgive: A Study of the Book of Philemon” (Chapter 1 – “Encouragement and Accountability”)

Has anyone ever commended you publicly? How did that compliment affect your behavior?

What if our churches today would more consistently practice a pattern of loving accountability to its members?

ANYONE GOT A BOOK IN THEM?

Hi Everyone!

I think the bite of the writing bug often comes in more than one form. I know many of you bloggers have also mentioned a book-writing project, or have already published a book in some way. Heck, many of you could make a book out of the contents of your blog!

After at least a year or two since I first put my hands to the keyboard on this study, I’m happy to announce that “An Invitation to Forgive: A Study of the Book of Philemon” will be available on Amazon soon. It will be a while, though. Just when I thought I was finished, I’m not. As a newbie, I didn’t realize what a drawn-out process it is to self-publish…but I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it. It is a new world to me, and I’m both excited and a little tentative.

Why Philemon? Well, I suppose that even though this is a very small book of the Bible, it’s packed with so many nuggets of wisdom. All I can say is that many years ago my dad taught a lesson from this book so well that I became intrigued and decided to do my own study. So here it is!

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Suppose you were to open your mailbox and spot an unusual piece of mail. A glimpse of your name, handwritten in calligraphy, tells you this isn’t just another bill. Pushing aside the junk mail like tares from the wheat, you snatch the envelope and open the gold-lined seal to find –

An invitation ~

It is from a friend, offering you the chance to mend a broken relationship.

“An invitation to forgive?” you may scoff…

Why would anyone want to get an invitation like that?”

And yet that is exactly the type of invitation the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to Philemon. In a manner that is both brilliant and appealing, Paul urges Philemon to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus. He challenges Philemon to see forgiveness as a privilege; an invitation to be accepted or declined. It was Philemon’s choice to make.

Would he have the character to see past his anger to the benefits this invitation would offer him, or would he hang on to resentment and miss the blessing?

This verse-by-verse Bible Study is written for anyone who has ever struggled with forgiveness or longs to see the reconciliation of broken relationships. It will address and examine the questions involved in the dynamics of forgiveness, such as:

  • Can true forgiveness ever be commanded?
  • Does loyalty and harmony come by compulsion?
  • What is the character of someone who forgives?
  • On what basis should we forgive someone who has offended us?

This study will not only shed light on the answers to these questions but also present the rich Biblical principles on which they are based. It is written in an easy-to-read, interactive format, guiding the reader to identify his own invitation to forgive—an invitation ultimately written for all of us.

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So here’s your chance to plug your book or project -in –the- works! I would love to hear whatever you’d like to share about it – the idea of the book itself, the story behind your book, even tips about what you have learned in the process. I can’t wait to read about them. Anyone with a comment will be eligible to enter a drawing for a free advance copy!