Tuesday, September 16, 2014


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One of the most amazing stories of forgiveness comes out of the Vietnam war. The American pilots did not know that the village was inhabited and napalmed it. The villagers ran for their lives, including one little girl by the name of Kim Phuc. A reporter happened to be in the neighbourhood and snapped the photo that went around the world of Kim running from the blast, her clothes burnt from her body by the napalm, and agony on her face. Kim was scarred for life. Many years later, the pilot was present to hear Kim speak of how God had come into her life and how she would personally forgive the man who dropped the chemicals should she ever meet him. After the message, the pilot went up to Kim, introduced himself and asked for her forgiveness—something she gladly gave him!

We wonder how it is possible to forgive something like that.

In the previous post we looked at Luke 6:36 where we are told to be merciful as God is merciful. This statement is amplified in passages such as Ephesians 4:22-32, which ends with: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

As in other passages we’ve looked at, we are reminded here in Ephesians that the battle for a forgiving attitude begins in the mind (vs. 23) and is the product of our relationship with Christ. We are told to be proactive—putting off the old attitudes and putting on the new ones. That requires effort on our part, beginning with the will to make that effort as the circumstances dictate. But however hard it may seen to the Scripture is clear: We were created to be like God “in true righteousness and holiness” (vs. 24). Forgiveness is not an option.

Because of that (Paul’s big “therefore” in verse 25) things have to change. It is interesting and important to note the first thing that follows Paul’s “therefore.” We are to tell the truth. This means that we don’t live in denial of the offense we have endured, or cover it up, or push down the emotions that it causes in us in the hopes that eventually it will go away. We are to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Obviously Paul is addressing the relationships within the church here. As obviously, if we can’t resolve the relationship issues that plague us within the church, how much hope do we have in resolving any issues that might exist between believers and those who do not believe?

Most of the rest of this passage circles around anger, and the results of anger. The anger that results from being offended must be dealt with quickly or else it will become harmful and lead to other sins and ills—all of which grieve the Holy Spirit (vs. 20).

Forgiving is not optional, but it is a choice.

What follows is dedicated to how to go about forgiving those who have offended us. This exercise is not original to me and it isn’t the only way to work though the process of forgiveness, but it is a helpful exercise. Read it carefully and follow the directions.


We must read, think and decide what we are going to do.

Ask God to help you remember the names of the people who you need to forgive. Here is a prayer you can use as a model:

“Dear Heavenly Father: I thank you for your kindness, mercy and patience, knowing that your kindness has led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). I confess that I have not always extended the same patience and mercy to those who have offended me. Rather, I have held on to anger, resentment and hurt. I ask you that as I take this moment to examine myself that you bring to my mind those persons that I have not forgiven in order that I have the opportunity to forgive them (Matthew 18:35). I ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.”

Make a list of names as they come to mind.  At the end of the list write: “myself.” To pardon oneself is to accept the forgiveness of God. Include God on your list since many times we blame God and hug anger toward Him in our hearts. Technically we can’t forgive God. God never sins, either by committing sin or neglecting to do something, but we need to specifically renounce the false expectations we have concerning God and release anything we hold against Him. Before you pray and forgive these people, take a few moments to think about what forgiveness is, and what it is not, what steps you are going to take, and what the consequences will be.

The following are some important points:

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the offense. People try to forget but can’t. God says that He will not remember our sins (Hebrews 10:17), but because He is all-knowing He can’t forget anything. To “not remember” our sins is to never use those sins against us (Psalm 103:12). When we throw someone’s offenses against us in their face, we are saying that we haven’t forgiven.

Forgiving is a decision, a crisis of will.

Since God has told us to forgive it means that we must be able to forgive. But it is hard for us because to goes against our sense of justice.  We want recognition that we have suffered, but we are told not to seek revenge (Romans 12:19). "Why should I let him get away with this?" we complain. That is precisely the problem. As long as we feed the monsters from the past, we are always going to be attached to them. But we can let them go because God never will. He will take care of what we can’t—and shouldn’t.

You object: “But you don’t know how much this person hurt me! And don’t you see that he still is? How do I get rid of the pain?” You forgive to release yourself. The value of forgiveness comes not from what happens between you and the other person but from what happens between you and God.
Forgiveness is expensive. We pay the price of the evil done to us. Nevertheless we need to understand that we will have to live with that evil, like it or not. Our only option is how we choose to live: with bitterness because we won’t forgive or with liberty because we have forgiven.

Jesus accepted the consequences of our sin. To truly forgive is substitutionary because no one can forgive who doesn’t bear the weight of the damage the sins committed against him have caused. Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that we could become righteousness in Him. Where is the justice in that? It’s hanging on the cross (Romans 6:10). Our problem comes when we refuse to leave it hanging there.

You decide to bear the offense by not using those offenses against that other person in the future.
This doesn’t mean that you tolerate sin. You have to put Biblical boundaries up to prevent future abuse. It means that where there are legal issues, justice must be served, but you will not look for revenge with bitterness in your heart.

How do we genuinely forgive? By acknowledging the pain and anger.

If our forgiveness doesn’t face the emotional consequences of our journey, it will be incomplete. Many people feel the pain of the offenses committed against them, but either don’t want to face it or don’t know how to face it. Allow God to bring that pain to the surface so that He can heal it.
Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like it; you never will!

Emotions need time to heal after you have made the decision to forgive. You want to gain freedom, not feeling.

As you pray it is possible that God will bring to your mind people and experiences that you had forgotten. Allow Him to do that even though it may hurt. Remember that you are doing this for your own good. God wants you to be free. Don’t spend time rationalizing or explaining the other person’s behaviour. Forgiveness begins in you, and leaves the other person to God. In the beginning the process of forgiveness must deal with your pain.

Don’t say: “Lord, please help me to forgive,” because that’s what He is already doing. Don’t say, “Lord, I want to forgive,” because you already know that forgiving is your responsibility. Keep praying about each of the people on your list until you are sure that the pain associated with the offense is gone (in the sense that you have no desire to use the offense against that person) and until you don’t feel the emotion that was connected to the offense; what that person did, how he hurt you, how you felt (rejected, unloved, indignant, dirty, useless, etc.) Now you are ready to forgive, to be free in Christ. Now these people on your list have no more control over you.

Pray out loud for each person on your list:  “Lord, I forgive (name) for (offense).”

After you have forgiven each of the people on your list, finish with: “Lord, I give all of these people to You. I turn over to You any desire for revenge. I choose not to be bitter or angry and I ask that You heal my damaged emotions. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen”

There is a freedom in forgiveness, not just for the one being forgiven but for the one doing the forgiving as well.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


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Someone has to pay! We believe in our hearts that justice needs to be served—and quickly! It frustrates us when the system fails, when the church fails, when we can’t get satisfaction for wrongs done.

It is difficult in the heat of the hurt to remember that the payment for the wrong done to us has already been made. Christ covered it with His blood on the cross. But we’d still like a little “blood” here and now.

One of the most famous verses of the Bible is found in Matthew 7:12. There are probably lots of people who aren’t even aware that this well-known adage even comes from the Bible (and some who would reject it if they did know), but the so-named “Golden Rule” is a biblical principle that we shouldn’t forget. When we feel the burning desire to “get back” at those who have hurt us, it’s valuable to turn the situation around and ask ourselves how we would like others to treat us if we had been the ones DOING the wrong, rather than having the wrong done to us.

So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

It is an interesting statement for several reasons. The first one being that such action goes against every instinct we have. We hardly ever react to a wrong done to us by considering how we would want to be treated if we had committed the wrong. As well, we might ask now such a statement “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” The Law referred to would have been understood by the audience listening to Jesus to be the Ten Commandments. These are laid out for us in Exodus 20:1-17 and summarized by Jesus in the statement recorded in Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart  and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

But consider the Ten Commandments. How are they summed up in this Golden Rule?

If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will put Him first (Exodus 20:3).

If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will put no substitute in His place (Exodus 20:4).

If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will not treat His name like it was garbage (Exodus 20:7).

If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will respect the time He has designated to our special relationship and to my physical renewal (Exodus 20:8).

If I treat my parents as I would like them to treat me, I will respect them (Exodus 20:12).

If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will do them no physical harm (Exodus 20:13).

If I treat my spouse as I would like that spouse to treat me, I will not cheat (Exodus 20:14).

If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will not take anything of theirs that doesn’t belong to me (Exodus 20:15).

If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will not tell lies about them (Exodus 20:16).

If I treat others as I would them to treat me, I will not be jealous of what they have and I don’t (Exodus 20:17).

Suddenly it makes sense. We need to give what we hope to get back. So the question becomes not “What can I do to get my revenge?” but “What can I do to respond to this wrong in the same way that I would hope others would respond to my wrongdoing?” Some might balk at my use of the word “revenge” and prefer to say that what they want is “justice.” But the same truth applies. However you phrase it, neither revenge or justice is ours to seek. That’s God’s job. Ours is to respond as Jesus responded to the wrong done to Him.

And it is what we believe about God that helps us to put aside the instincts for revenge (or justice) and follow that “Golden Rule.” If we believe that God is sovereign, or in control of all things and all people, and if we believe that He is both loving and just, then we will be much more able to let go and allow Him to deal with whatever needs to be done to set things straight. The better we know the character and qualities of God, the easier it becomes to trust Him in every area of our lives.

The temptation to “get back” at those who hurt us is as natural as the instinct to squash an annoying mosquito. The temptation is often hard to resist—proportionate to the seriousness of the wrong done to us.

I Corinthians 10:13 tells us: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Temptation is common, to be expected. None of us is above wanting to get our “revenge.”

The promise is that God will not allow anything to touch us that will produce a temptation that is beyond our ability to handle. That’s good—we know He’s in control. That’s bad because we can't use any situation that comes into our lives as an excuse to lose control. We can never say that we had to give in because it was impossible to do anything else.

The second part of the promise is that there is always a way out. We don’t have to yield to the temptation. We can endure it because there will be resources to deal with the instinct to “get back” at the person who has wronged us. What “way” He will provide is not defined. Every situation, every temptation, has its own unique quirks. The “way out” will be unique to the situation and the temptation.

In the book, Forgiveness Factor by Gary Thomas, Lewis Smedes is quoted as saying: “Some people view forgiveness as a cheap avoidance of justice, a plastering over of wrong, a sentimental make-believe. If forgiveness is a whitewashing of wrong, then it is itself wrong. Nothing that whitewashes evil can be good. It can only be good if it is a redemption from the effects of evil, not a make-believing that the evil never happened” (pg. 14).

We can never get away with pretending the wrong didn’t happen. Like the garbage, it needs to be dealt with and taken away. Forgiveness provides that “garbage disposal.”

But there is huge benefit to us when we forgive that we often overlook when we are caught in the throes of responding to the wrongs done to us. To not forgive is a sin. Like any sin, the unforgiving spirit is a sin that God can’t forgive until we repent and forgive. The addition to the Lord’s Prayer that we read in Matthew 6, clearly states this truth: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (6:14, 15).

So the freedom that comes with the forgiveness of our own sin hinges on our ability to grant that freedom to those who have sinned against us. That is a huge benefit to us because it means that our relationship with God has no barriers erected that would impact it negatively. We’re good with God.

Here are a few of the verses from Scripture that describe the benefits that comes from responding correctly to offense. Proverbs is one book in the Bible filled with short, pithy statements that give valuable advice on how to treat others.

Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

Proverbs 12:2: “A good man obtains favour from the Lord, but the Lord condemns a crafty man.”

Proverbs 14:22: “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”

Peace, the favour of God, love and faithfulness are all positive benefits to a forgiving spirit.

Luke 6:27-36, part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, outlines Jesus’ teaching on how we should treat our enemies. The passage begins and ends with summary statements that define the believer’s response to wrongs done to him.

“...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...love your enemies, do good to them...you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” (27, 28, 35, 36).

Tucked in among these verses is Luke’s expression of the Golden Rule (vs. 31).

What makes it possible to actually practice these principles, to be forgiving in  and under the most extreme abuse? Romans 12:17-21 describes some of the actions of a person who forgives, but the beginning of the chapter tells how it is possible to do what is described.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Our surrender to God is key. We surrender to Him because of the great mercy He has shown to us by forgiving us. We could never have as much for which to forgive others as He had to forgive us. This surrender in acknowledgment of His mercy to us, implies a “death” to the old patterns of thinking and acting that characterizes our lives before Christ. That old pattern is gradually replaced by a new one—the imprint of Christ’s character on ours. As that happens our old responses to wrongs done to us are replaced by new responses. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (vs. 2).

His will, as far as our response to the action of those who wrong us, is then detailed in verses 17-21, ending with the summary statement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Verse 20 of the Romans passage is a partial quote from Proverbs. In its original form the quote ends with “...and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22). Any reward of the Lord’s has got to be good!

Most of us know the adage: “You are what you eat.” But more importantly, and accurately, we are what we think. Many of us don’t, thankfully, act on our thoughts. And somehow we come to believe that because we don’t act on those thoughts, it’s okay to think them! But the transformation to Christ-like behaviour begins with the mind.

For that reason Philippians 2:5 begins in the King James Version: “Let this mind be in you , which was also in Christ Jesus...” With the transformation of the mind, comes the change in attitude which results in a change in actions. In turn those changes allow us to treat others as we would hope to be treated ourselves.