Tag: reconciliation

The Heart-wrenching Process of Forgiving

Forgiving

The topic of forgiveness is common within the church. We discuss giving it, desiring it, accepting it, rejoicing in it, and enjoying the ultimate – forgiveness in Christ. However, we are less likely to talk about the process of forgiveness. Extending forgiveness will require prayer and can cost significant time. And for some, a substantial amount of time. There’s a huge difference between forgiving someone who spoke badly about you, and forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you – emotionally, physically or both.

This discussion is not intended to hurry you to the point of forgiveness, but rather my desire is to lend some clarity to what you might expect as God moves you closer to what may seem impossible. Even more so, I would like to share what I believe to be a more complete view of forgiveness – one that is more for the forgiven. It is also important for me to say that if there has been any history of violence, fear of it occurring, danger for the victim or those involved – a discussion with a pastor or a qualified therapist is mandatory before any contact should even be considered. As a victim of violence by a complete stranger myself, I would not pursue that relationship.

In recent history, the church has fallen short in revealing the depth and greatness of offering forgiveness. For many reasons, we have focused on teaching Christians that the greatest benefit to forgiving is to be enjoyed by the forgiver. Freedom and closure are promised. But as difficult as it may be to accept, this type of forgiveness falls short of what we are offered through Christ. I wrote more on that HERE.

Forgiveness and the results of forgiveness can look quite different. Are both Christians? Is the offender an unbeliever? Are they related? Is the offender a friend, or a stranger? The truth is that regardless of the offense and who is involved, God’s heart and all of scripture indicate forgiveness is always for reconciliation and restoration. In some circumstances, this may mean parties are reconciled. In other circumstances, parties are not reconciled. However, forgiveness should always create a way for the offender to be reconciled to God. This post is intended to walk through part of this process for arriving at forgiveness. In no way is it intended to be an all-inclusive discussion, or meant to be overly simplistic.

THEIR RESPONSE, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY

As it sometimes happens, the offender does not recognize, whether by intention or not, that they even committed an offense. In some cases, they will adamantly reject that they are responsible, or that any offense ever occurred. In those cases, our obedience to God is never contingent on another person’s response. If the Holy Spirit is leading you to extend forgiveness, your response is obedience.

The offender’s failure to recognize the offense, or outright rejection of it, while frustrating and difficult, is of little consequence with regard to your obedience. Once you present forgiveness and the path to reconciliation it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to draw that person to their own realization. If the person is not a bother or sister in Christ, their response is still not your responsibility. In every case, your obedience should communicate the grace of God, and everything beyond that is dependent on God.

IT BEGINS IN THE MIND

In Romans 12:2 the Apostle Paul instructs us to, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” then goes on to talk about what it looks like to be a true follower of Jesus. Paul speaks of love, grace, and dealing with those who persecute you while refraining from revenge (being forgiving.) He is indicating to us that as we spend time in God’s word, the Gospel will renew our minds, and change the way we approach and think about everything – including forgiveness. If this is true, once the Holy Spirit begins to move us toward forgiving, should it not begin as a decision of our mind, rather than our heart? In fact, I would contend that making a cognitive, or logically reasoned, decision to forgive is the easier part of the process. Often times, as the Holy Spirit leads us, we will easily know it is right and just to forgive. However, it is our heart, which is “deceitful above all things” that typically complicates the issue.

THEY MUST KNOW

Once the decision is made to extend forgiveness, it is important that the offender knows forgiveness is available and, when appropriate, reconciliation is the intended outcome. This is not to say that it will be an easy task. However, the offering is necessary for reconciliation to occur. When we look at the forgiveness that God offers to us, the cross of Christ makes its availability known to us, even if we fail to acknowledge our need. Without knowing you are offering forgiveness, the offender’s ability to accept and pursue reconciliation does not exist. Telling the offender is necessary, even if they do not claim responsibility for the offense.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDLY

After you tell the offender, your actions have to reflect that you have forgiven them. Christ did not simply tell His followers that they were forgiven; He showed them. Christ on the cross was the evidence of what He said. What we say must be followed up by evidence. For some, this may be time offered to spend with the offender. Whatever it looks like for you, it has to communicate forgiveness to the offender.

BOUNDARIES GUIDE THE PROCESS

Once forgiveness is expressed, and the potential for reconciliation is made known, you are not obligated to a free for all on the part of the offender. Instead, we see Christ offering forgiveness that establishes healthy and safe boundaries, guardrails if you will, that we should operate within. Even after we offer the gift of forgiveness, there are still expectations for how we are to behave with regard to God and the offender. While the learning curve is wide and the process of transformation is long, a lifetime even, the boundaries still exist. What those boundaries look like are up to you, but remember that they cannot be prohibitive to the offender being reconciled, potentially with you, and especially to God.

YOUR HEART WILL FOLLOW

At the end of the above process, you may still feel the hurt and anger in your heart. That should not be a surprise. The intention is that you make forgiveness known and visible. The implication of the renewal of your mind, as Romans 12:2 speaks of, is that you will be transformed. This can take time, can be messy and includes the complication of our deceitful heart. In being transformed, we are able to know the will of God, which we can see from 2 Corinthians 5:18 and 1 Timothy 2:4, is centered on people being reconciled to Him. As our mind is renewed, our heart is transformed and we interact with people in more Christ-like ways.

In the end, the extension of our forgiveness is an act of obedience to God so that we might fulfill our role of ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). May the desire of our heart be that of our Savior’s, to trust in and show the love of the Father.

If you found this post helpful, please use one of the below buttons to share.
photo credit: www.psychologytoday.com

Have You Been Stained By The World?

dirty-hands-1-1438009

A common roadblock for many of us coming to Jesus is the truth that we are not good enough. And so we have convinced ourselves that once we clean up our mess we will feel “right” in approaching Him. It almost doesn’t matter when someone says something like, “Come as you are.

Recently I read James1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Immediately my mind went to “What if I am hopelessly stained by the world? What if I serve widows and orphans, help the homeless, feed the hungry and seek justice for the oppressed, but still feel stained?”

Maybe you’ve asked the same question. Maybe you feel like you have been angry one too many times. Maybe you have watched porn so many times that even when you desperately want to erase it from your mind it creeps back in. Maybe you have had an affair, or multiple affairs. As much as you want to put it behind you, heal and prove your dedication to your wife, the remnants of that hurt will not release their grip on your conscience. Perhaps it’s a problem where your pride pushed others down for your benefit. Does your habit of lying make it difficult for you to even know your own truth?

Whatever your stain, it doesn’t wash off. And a verse like James 1:27, taken by itself, makes it seem like an impossible task. It is. For you.

No amount of good work or deeds, on your part, will remove your stains. Nothing you do will wash away the stains that are there. So what are you to do?

The most important thing is to understand that James isn’t talking about our relationship with Jesus, well, not directly anyway.

We want to draw a sharp distinction between religion and relational reconciliation. While both are important, the order in which we approach them is more important. Relational reconciliation always leads to religion, but religion does not always lead to reconciliation.

Here is the line that I’m drawing. Relational reconciliation is salvation. It is being introduced to Jesus and deciding to enter into the relationship that He offers. Relational reconciliation is choosing to believe in Jesus so you can be reconciled to and approach the Father unblemished by the world. Relational reconciliation is spending time with God and allowing the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross to wash you clean. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your heart and character so that the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident to everyone else. Religion is where we display the evidence of that; it is where we have relationship with Jesus.

A religion is nothing more than an institution for expressing belief in a divine power. While Christianity as a title identifies us as followers of Jesus, as a religion it is the venue where we are “energetic in [our] life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God.” The religion that James is talking about comes after our salvation and reconciliation. The religion he is talking about is the product of the work of Jesus in our heart and the power of the Holy Spirit in our life.

I’ve struggled with this more than once. So many times I have felt like I was not working hard enough or that I had not kept myself unstained by the world. Each time I was reminded that I do not have to work hard enough and it isn’t me that keeps me unstained by the world.

Jesus on the cross allows us to start again. It doesn’t always erase the memories in our head, the stuff that gnaws at our conscience, but it does erase the sin stains on our heart that separate us from God. The conscious gnawing does lessen – through time spent in God’s word and acts of confession to God and others.

Regardless of how you feel or how bad you think you are, the redeeming work of Jesus frees you to approach God. Healing is always the result of Jesus’ compassionate heart. Wholeness is always the result of the Holy Spirit’s immense power.

Religion without relationship is just tedious work, often times good work, where many become disillusioned with Christianity. Religion without relationship keeps you from the abundant life that Jesus offers.

Don’t start with religion, start with relationship. The stains come out, I promise.

The Thrill of Hope

A-Thrill-of-Hope-titleThe other day I was listening to a popular local Christian radio station when a man came on and shared his testimony for how God used the radio station to give him hope. During his testimony the man quoted Jeremiah 29:11 and talked about how God showed him that He had a plan for his life. Whenever I hear someone use that scripture to support the claim that God has a plan for their particular life, I cringe a little inside. It’s not because I don’t understand the person’s sentiment; I do. It’s because the person saying it is using the verse out of context and when it’s shared on a grand forum, like a radio station, I think it relays an incorrect understanding of the Gospel to thousands of people and only perpetuates western Christianity’s mishandling of Jesus.

I’ve written about this before and addressed the difference between God’s plan versus His desire for our life. You can read it HERE, so I won’t go into it again, but I think this is the perfect time of year to talk about what God told Jeremiah to say to the Israelites.

SHALOM-sign-18mm-1024-x-768To clarify and set the foundation, when read in context, we can see that Jeremiah 29:11 is actually being said to the whole Israelite nation as the are being sent into exile. In verse 11 God is telling His people His thoughts toward them are one of, in the Hebrew, shalom, or peace. In some translations, shalom is translated into prosper, but the intent is the same. God’s thoughts toward the Israelites are thoughts of peace and goodness. His desire for them is that of goodwill. It has little, if anything, to do with material prosperity and more to do with peaceful growth as a people and nation. Then God tells them that those thought are not simply intangible well-wishing on His part, but are the catalyst His plan to give them a future and hope. These plans are two-fold and point to both a short-term and long-term plan.

In the short-term, God is telling His people to take hope in His promise to rescue them out of exile after 70 years. Imagine that promise. Imagine the thrill as you hoped for that day. That’s good news enough and might have been a good place to leave it, but God didn’t leave it there. Because God is a God of redemption and reconciliation and had continually told Israel that He intended to save the world through them, the long-term plan is why we will gather in churches and homes, tonight and tomorrow to celebrate and remember. God’s short-term plan was seen 70 years after Jeremiah spoke Jeremiah 29:11, but His long-term plan was seen 2000 years ago, in a Bethlehem manger, in the birth of Jesus.

Jesus is our future and our hope; He’s our now. He is the plan that God enacted long before He spoke to Jeremiah, Isaiah, Moses, or Abraham. I don’t want to discount the fact that the Holy Spirit may lead someone to that scripture verse in times of despair. Times when there’s no money in the bank and no food in the cabinet, when your child lays sick or worse in the hospital, when all seems lost. He does; He’s led me there. But when He does, I’m certain that the only reason is to point us toward Jesus. The situation may not go away, it may get worse, but our hope is still Jesus. Tragedy is not God’s desire for us, peace is and that’s only found in Jesus.

Our hope, who is Jesus, ought to continue to thrill us (Click to Tweet This). So as we head to our Christmas Eve services tonight and gather for presents and good food tomorrow (our tradition is CRAB!), let us do so in a way that glories Him and acknowledges the Good plan of God.

Merry Christmas

© 2017 BrucePagano.com

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: