Unforgivable

I have found that there are consistently two kinds of people that many Christians either don’t want to forgive or struggle to forgive. It might not be who you think.

We have a prayer ministry at our church, so I have prayed for a number of people. We offer extended, scheduled prayer sessions where we pray through really complex issues. During these sessions we always start with forgiveness. Forgiving those who have failed us and hurt us is the most important step in experiencing spiritual freedom and inner healing. And I have seen people pray and forgive people who have done horrendous things to them. Watching God empower people with His grace to forgive others is so incredible!

I have seen people forgive their abusers, their violent ex-lovers, their neglectful parents, and their selfish friends. I have seen people forgive all manner of harm, both physical and emotional. Especially when the Presence of God fills the room, I have seen people forgive in a moment what might seem impossible to forgive in a lifetime. Yet, there are two moments of forgiveness that tend to be particularly difficult for Christians.

Forgiving Oneself:
There are often moments when I or my prayer partner senses that there is a need for the person to forgive themselves. This kind of person usually does a wonderful job forgiving others. Yet, they carry the weight of shame and guilt around their neck like a heavy yoke. Even after they receive God’s forgiveness, the yoke still seems to be there. It isn’t until they stop condemning themselves that their yoke lightens. Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). I have seen people who just forgave a number of people without a tear in their eye completely break down and weep as they try to forgive themselves.

We often have to remind this person that they don’t have to be the Holy Spirit. They don’t have to try to enforce conviction in their own lives. That is the Holy Spirit’s job, and He’s really good at it. The Holy Spirit brings conviction without shame and condemnation. When we try to do it, we easily fall pray to perpetual shame and guilt.

Maybe it’s time you forgave yourself. Maybe it’s time you stop judging yourself so harshly. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, clothed in righteousness, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. Take some time to forgive yourself. Pray out loud something like this, “In Jesus’s name, I choose to forgive myself for ___________.”

Forgiving the Church (or Church Leadership)
I was at a large conference and I was serving on the ministry team there. We were the ones praying for people during the conference. I was there a day early with the rest of the team for some training. In a group of nearly 50 people, I was one of only 4 or 5 pastors in the room. In one of the sessions, I could sense that many of these amazing men and women–people who were incredibly gifted–had been ignored or silenced by their church leadership. This was especially true of the women in the room and those with prophetic gifts.

I asked our leader for permission to say something to the group. I stood in the center of the room with everyone encircled around me and I asked them for forgiveness on behalf of all the pastors who hurt them. A few other pastors joined me in the middle and we knelt before the whole room. After I was done repenting and asking for forgiveness, a few of the people who had been hurt declared forgiveness out loud to us pastors. It was an incredible moment! Something unlocked. I received some testimonies later where people said that they never again interacted with their church leadership the same. Their willingness to forgive shifted something.

So many people will forgive anyone and everything but the Church. They walk around daily with resentment and bitterness toward the Church and toward church leadership. These same people who can forgive horrendous abuse sometimes can’t seem to forgive smaller offenses they have experienced in church. Their bitterness and resentment start to paint the church in awful ways. They grow distant from God because they refuse to forgive the church for making mistakes. For these folks, everyone else is allowed to make mistakes, but not the Church and definitely not church leadership. They think they are holding the church accountable, but really they are just holding on to unforgiveness. And it ends up imprisoning the person in a cage of resentments and offenses.

Maybe you need to forgive the Church in general for decisions it has made. Or maybe you need to forgive particular people in the church who have offended you or harmed you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what they did was okay. It just means you’re acknowledging that you are not their judge and jury. God alone is the Just Judge and you are surrendering everything to Him. You are giving up your right to bring revenge and punishment, and you are laying down your bitterness and resentment. Unforgiveness is so toxic. Forgiveness is when we choose to bless those who have hurt us instead of cursing them. The apostle Paul said to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers“(Galatians 6:10). If there is anyone we should get good at forgiving, it is the “family of believers.”

Who do you need to forgive? Don’t let unforgiveness toward the Church imprison your life with Christ. Don’t allow the enemy to bury you under a pile of anger and resentment. Forgiveness is your way out if you’re willing to take it.

Your Faith Has Healed You

There is so much misunderstanding around the connection between faith and healing. What really confuses people is when Jesus tells the person who got healed that their faith has healed them. There are three main incidents of this in the Gospel accounts.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:34

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:52

Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:19

The first one is with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She touches the edge of Jesus’s robe and is healed. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” The second one is blind Bartimaeus. After calling out to Jesus, Bartimaeus is invited over to Him. Jesus heals him and says, “your faith has healed you.”

The third incident is with 10 lepers that approach Jesus for healing. They travel together as a leper colony and together ask Jesus to heal them. He sends them away to show themselves to the priests, and “as they went” they were completely healed from leprosy. Even though all of them were physically healed, only one returns to give thanks. He is a Samaritan. Jesus tells this one that his faith has made him well. The word used here in the Greek is sozo meaning saved, healed, and delivered. More than just physically healed, this man who returned is healed at a deeper level, at the level of his soul, because of his faith.

What our western mindsets do with these accounts is to reverse the logic. We wrongly assume that if their faith healed them, then if someone isn’t healed it is because of a lack of faith on the part of the person seeking healing. This misunderstanding has been perpetuated in some corners of the charismatic tradition and has led to some really toxic practices in the church. But we must take these incidents together with other healings we see Jesus perform.

In the Gospel of Mark we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy who isn’t sure Jesus is willing to heal him. The man prefaced his request for healing with, “If you are willing…” (Mark 1:40-41). In the same Gospel we see a father bring his son to Jesus asking for healing and deliverance. This father prefaced his request with “…if you can do anything…” (Mark 9:22-24). This dad isn’t even sure Jesus is able to do anything. Neither one of these guys show tremendous faith, and yet Jesus still heals.

We also see a couple times where Jesus heals someone not because of the faith of the person needing healing but because of the faith of a friend or family member. When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the mat who is lowered through the roof, it is because Jesus sees “their faith,” meaning the faith of the friends lowering their friend through the roof (Luke 5:20). When Jesus heals and delivers the daughter of the Canaanite woman, he acknowledges the mother’s faith, not the daughter’s (Matthew 15:28). When the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant who is paralyzed and suffering, Jesus did so based on the centurion’s faith, not the servant’s (Matthew 8:10).

What we learn from these accounts is that faith, among other things, is a conduit of healing power. Yet, while it seems that faith has to be somewhere in the equation, it doesn’t have to be found in the person asking for healing. In cases where people have little or no faith, Jesus himself has plenty of faith to act as the conduit of healing. In other cases, the friend or family member provide more than enough faith to be a conduit for healing.

So, let’s return to the times Jesus said, “your faith has healed you.” What is Jesus really saying? I believe Jesus is giving a word of encouragement to the person who is seeking the healing. I believe Jesus is saying something like this, “When you came to ask for healing, I didn’t have to use any of my own faith as a conduit for healing. And it didn’t require any faith from your friends or family. When you came, you came with so much faith that your own faith was enough to be a conduit of your own healing!” Taken this way, we can see that Jesus’s words are mean to empower. (Imagine how empowering those words would be to a person who lived in a religious culture that assumed their physical ailment was a result of a lack of faithfulness on their part–see Luke 13:1-5.)

Let me conclude by stating clearly that faith is not the only variable impacting whether someone experiences healing. There are lots of variables, some of them mysterious and others unknowable. But what we learn from scripture is that of all the variables that are involved in healing, faith is one of them. Not the only one, but one nonetheless. And while it needs to be present, it doesn’t have to be present in the person needing healing. It can be present in the person praying. It can be present in a family member or friend. It just needs to be in the room somewhere and that’s all God needs to use it as a conduit for healing.

Forgive Again

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 

Colossians 3:13

Sometimes we need to forgive more than once. One act of forgiveness may cover a small offense but a deep hurt will likely require more. Forgiveness can be both an act and a process. We forgive the initial act that cut us so deeply. Then we must continue in the process of forgiveness as we deal with the consequences of that initial act. This requires ongoing forgiveness.

The enemy loves to try to sneak resentment back into our hearts even after we feel like we’ve forgiven. First, he’ll try to get us to believe that we haven’t actually forgiven the initial offense. This is a lie. This is intended to bring shame and condemnation. It is very likely that you have, actually, forgiven. But now it is not about the initial act anymore. It is now about forgiving the fall out from that hurt. This requires an ongoing attitude and posture of forgiveness.

Next, the enemy will try to convince you that because you have forgiven, you don’t need to forgive again. This is a half-truth. Yes, you have forgiven. That much is true. But you must continue in forgiveness. And sometimes this requires praying out loud, again, a declaration that you forgive that person. Yes, you’ve already done that, but you are doing it again so that the little residual resentments have no place to plant their deceptive seeds of bitterness.

Paul tells the Colossians to “forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Did the Lord forgive once and for all at the cross? Yes! Yet, does He continue to forgive each time we confess our sins? Yes! Both are necessary.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Our initial act of forgiveness is like tilling the garden soil, breaking up the ground of our hearts, so that the Lord can plant things that will bear the good fruit of the Spirit. Our ongoing process of forgiving is like weeding the garden. It is what will prevent any resentment from contaminating our heart and bearing the fruit of bitterness and coldness.

Invitation: There is More

Throughout our journey with Jesus, He will set up forks in the road with a sign posted that says, “There is more!” We will have to decide to turn down the road to “more” or not. “There is more” is not an accusation but an invitation. When Jesus says, “There is more,” He’s not saying, “You are less.” Unfortunately, this is what some people hear. No, this is an invitation to experience a new province of His Kingdom that we haven’t seen before.

In seminary, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Life Together.” It was an invitation into deep community with two brothers in Christ. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

After 6 years of pastoral ministry, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Social Justice: Human trafficking.” It was invitation to help start an organization that would help reach children who were burning in God’s heart–children who were being trafficked. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

After 10 years of pastoral ministry, I came upon a “There is More” fork in the road with a smaller sign underneath that read, “Supernatural Kingdom.” It was an invitation to receive and engage in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I could have walked away, but I’m so glad I said, “Yes.”

One of the cries of God’s heart is, “There is More!” There is more to His Kingdom. There is more of His Kingdom that we haven’t seen yet. Are you willing to embrace the “more?” Are you willing to say, “Yes?” Are you willing to pursue God for the “more” that He has for you? In the end, the “more” isn’t just about us. It is about those who will be impacted through us because we said “yes” to the “more.”

The Point of It All

God wanted to be with His people, but they remained at a distance (Exodus 20:18-21). So God had the people create the tabernacle and the Levitical system so He could safely be present with them and they with Him. This became a permanent arrangement with the building of the Temple. The Temple became the place where heaven and earth overlapped, the center of the Venn diagram between two worlds.

When the old Temple and the old covenant was destroyed, God established a new covenant and a new Temple, Jesus himself. Jesus was the Word of God that had come to “tabernacle” among us (John 1:14). Jesus told the people that if “this Temple” was destroyed, he would raise it again in three days (John 2:19). And He did.

Though Jesus was “God with us,” He didn’t stop there. He didn’t just become a new Temple, a new place where heaven and earth overlapped. God’s next move was extraordinary! After ascending to heaven, Jesus sent His Spirit and made us the new Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). When we surrender our life to Jesus, the Spirit comes to dwell inside us and we become the new center of the Venn diagram between two worlds. We are where heaven and earth overlap! You, follower of Jesus, are where the Kingdom of God breaks into this world!

And this brings fulfillment to humanity’s original purpose. The reason God commanded that no graven images be made (Exodus 20:4) was because He had already made humanity “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). So we were perfectly designed to be Temples of the Living God. We just needed cleansed and made new, which Jesus did on the cross and in His resurrection. And all of this simply because God wanted to be with us, His people.

And He’s still not done. At the end of Revelation, we read about the conclusion of all of history. Here’s how the story ends, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”(Revelation 21:3). This was the point of it all!

Uncertainty & Unbelief

In the church today, especially progressive wings of the church, it is all too popular to conflate uncertainty with unbelief. It all gets muddled under the word “doubt.” Christians these days like to say things like, “It’s okay to doubt. It’s normal and natural.” But do they mean, “It is okay to be uncertain?” Or do they mean, “It is okay to live in unbelief?”

Uncertainty is a normal and natural part of a life of faith. Unbelief, however, is a toxic poison to the life of faith. So what kind of “doubt” are we talking about? The Bible is really clear about the toxicity of unbelief.

In Luke 1, when Zechariah didn’t believe the word of God spoken by the angel Gabriel (who appeared to him in the Temple), Gabriel didn’t say, “It’s okay…doubt (meaning unbelief) is a normal part of the Christian life. I’ll celebrate your deconstruction process and give you space to find your truth.” Can you imagine?

Nope.

Gabriel was stern with Zechariah and said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words…”(Luke 1:19-20).

Unbelief is so toxic that Gabriel would rather silence Zechariah than have him spread his unbelief through his spoken words.

Christmas Movies

Missy and I are finding ourselves weary of the “lessons” of so many Christmas movies. Many movies have at least one kid filled with questions and doubts about Santa who is then told to “just believe.” But the child at home watching this movie learns to “believe” just in time to discover their belief in Santa to be false.

What’s the message here? It doesn’t matter if your belief is true, just believe in something? Belief in something is the virtue, not truth? This message is toxic to real faith.

Or what about the movies that have some greedy character that is all about the presents they get at Christmas. Then the lesson at the end of the movie is that Christmas isn’t about the gifts but about….wait for it….family and loved ones. Really? But what about the kids who have a dysfunctional family? How are they supposed to watch that movie?

The truth is that Christmas is about the gift of Jesus, not a generic sense of family. And no matter our family situation, Jesus loves us and is God with us, Immanuel. That’s the good news!

Or what about the movies that tell kids that if they are good enough, they will get lots of presents from Santa. So the kids whose parents went through a rough year this year–who lost their jobs or their business or their health–what are they supposed to think when only a few gifts are around the tree? Is the lesson that they weren’t good enough?

We are spreading the lie of performance mentality with all of this, or worse, the lie of works righteousness. Performance mentality says that if you perform well (in life, in school, at home) then everything will work out. And if you don’t perform well, it won’t. So if things are bad, push harder to perform better. Works righteousness is similar. It says that if you do everything correctly, you will be in right standing with God and He will bless you. Both of these are lies. We live by grace through faith and not by our performance or our works.

I know these are just silly movies, but the messages in so many of these movies are horrendous. Missy and I are having a harder and harder time sitting through them without getting a little nauseous. Sometimes I just want to be a Grinch. I want to turn off the delightful little Christmas movie midway through and tell my kids, “Don’t believe anything you just saw. It’s crap. It’s not true.” And maybe one day soon I will.

Hunting on the Frontier

I went with my oldest son out to west Texas on a hunting trip. It was our first. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate my son’s graduation from elementary school and entrance into the preteen years. It was a coming-of-age trip. While there, we had a morning hunt and an evening hunt each day. We awoke at 5:45am to get to the deer stands before first light. In the evenings we were at the stands before sundown. This means for four days we saw every sunrise and every sunset on the west Texas horizon. It was amazing.

One lesson I learned from this experience was that frontier living is different than living in the comforts of home. What might feel “extreme” back home is a necessity out there. For instance, all the hunting gear seems unnecessary when you are purchasing it back home. But when you are sitting in 27 degree weather for two hours, in the dark, before the sun rises, you discover the true purpose of all that gear.

One might think, “Why do we need boots and hunting pants? Won’t shoes and normal pants be sufficient?” And the answer is, “No.” But you don’t realize it until you’re hiking through west Texas terrain full of spikes, thorns, and cactus. It’s not a walk in the woods out there. On the frontier, everything is trying to sting you, stick you, or bite you. Boots and hunting pants protect you from constantly being stuck.

And who really needs a sidearm when you have a rifle? It seems like overkill produced by gun-happy NRA advocates. It seems excessive back home. But it’s not out there. There are mountain lions and black bear that roam the same area as the deer. When you are hiking through the dark to and from a deer stand, it’s difficult to have a rifle ready if you were to be attacked. A sidearm protects you from these predators. On our trip we saw a momma black bear and her cub getting into one of the corn feeders. We had to go chase it off and shoot guns in the air to scare it. The danger from these animals is real out there and the need for a sidearm is equally real.

Likewise, cruising around the Target parking lot does not exactly demand 4-wheel drive vehicles. But out on the frontier, 4-wheel drive vehicles are the only ones that will make it over the rocky mountain roads. On the way to the hunting lease, one goes from highway (70 mph), to gravel roads made of caliche (25 mph), to rocky trails (5 mph). Having a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not an attempt to flaunt ego, it is an absolute necessity for getting anywhere.

I saw this pattern over and over again. What seems excessive back in the comfort of suburban life was needed for survival in the terrain of the frontier of west Texas. And it got me thinking about how this is true in the Christian faith. If you dare to live on the frontier of faith, entering the untamed wilds of the kingdom of darkness in order to bring about the Kingdom of God, you will do things, say things, and live in a way that seem extreme to those satisfied to stay in their comfort zone of faith. If you want to plunder the kingdom of darkness, one must be willing to live in the borderlands, the badlands, where extreme faith, radical power, and pioneering risk-taking are not the exception but the rule. What seems like extreme faith is really just faith on the frontier. What seems like extreme obedience is really just obedience on the frontier. They are what is necessary to live, survive, and thrive.

Eyes of Compassion

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 

Matthew 6:22

It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I got a taste of this at my brother’s viewing on Friday night.

We were at the funeral home honoring my brother’s life as we mingled together with friends and family from all over. Because of COVID, we all had to wear masks. So as people approached me and my family to offer their condolences, we could only see their eyes.

What I witnessed that night I had never noticed before. The masks allowed a particular focus on the eyes. I could see compassion pouring from certain people’s eyes. Everyone there was compassionate or they wouldn’t have shown up. But there were certain people who just seemed to have compassion pouring out of their eyes.

Many times throughout the Gospels the Bible says that Jesus looked upon individual people and the crowds with compassion. Jesus had eyes that exuded compassion. And certain people at the viewing that night seemed to have the eyes of Jesus, eyes full of empathy.

I shared with one of my uncles that his eyes were ones that were noticeably eyes of compassion. He reminded me that his own family faced hardship and pain when his daughter was in a car accident. And in that moment it dawned on me that many of the people whose eyes beamed with compassion were people whose hearts had been broken, tenderized by tragedy and pain. When their hearts are squeezed by a new tragedy, compassion pours from their eyes.

Jesus, may You make our eyes like Your eyes. Lord, may it be that not only do we see what You see but that when people look into our eyes, they see You.

Dehumanizing

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9

The other day I saw a meme that had the phrase, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But it had a line through the all the words except the first one – love. So it looked like this: “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” At first I liked the intention behind the meme. The idea here is not to judge others for their sin and simply love them as God loves them. And I really like that.

But the more I looked at it the more I could see that, though this meme was well intentioned, it was missing an important truth from scripture. The Bible teaches us that in order to love people well, in order for love to be sincere, in order for us to love what God loves and the way God loves, we must also hate what He hates.

Some people think God doesn’t hate anything, but they probably haven’t read much of the Bible. God hates evil. And sin is a form of evil enacted by people. The reason God hates evil and sin is because sin dehumanizes the person sinning and the person being sinned against. Sin reduces the beauty and purpose of God’s good creation and it separates us from intimacy with God. Sin gives the enemy permission and access to wreak havoc in our lives and in the lives of others.

There is a reason the apostle Paul wrote Romans 12:9 to the early Christians in Rome. He knew loving well–in other words loving people the way God loved people–was connected to hating what God hates. God loves people perfectly and, because of that love, He hates the sin that damages their lives. He hates evil in all its forms.

In order to love the human trafficker well, I must hate human trafficking. Otherwise, I simply enable evil in the world. In order to love the drug addict well, I must hate addiction. With people promoting racism, in order to love them well, I must hate racism. With people promoting various perversions of human sexuality, in order to love them well, I must hate sexual perversion. With people promoting the killing of the unborn, in order to love them well, I must hate murder in all its forms.

In Romans 12:9 I believe Paul was expanding on a passage from the prophet Amos:

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.

Amos 5:14-15

The problem that most of us have with trying to live out the phrase “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is that we struggle to hold the tension of the dichotomy. If we don’t mind a person’s sin that much, we have an easier time loving them. Or, if we hate the sin someone is participating in, we struggle to see the person as more than their sin and then struggle to love them completely. We struggle to separate the identity of a person from their sin long enough to love them and hate the evil they participate in. We so often lump a person in with their sin as if they are the same thing. They’re not.

Loving the sinner while hating the sin is so difficult that it is impossible to do unless we are supernaturally empowered by the love of God. Human love is not strong enough to hold this tension. Human love will make excuses for the sin or enable the sin as an attempt to love the person. Or, human love will hate was is evil and condemn the person sinning. Human love, thinking it is advocating against injustice, will simply heap guilt and shame on the sinner. Only the love of God can rightly love the sinner and hate the sin. And we cannot even attempt to love what is good and hate was is evil without the love of God flowing through us.

Jesus is our perfect example. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin“(John 8:11). No condemnation combined with the call to leave a life of sin. Perfect love and acceptance combined with a challenge to holiness. Love for the sinner while hating the sin that was destroying her life.

“Love the sinner; hate the sin.” If you cross out any words you unintentionally cross them all out.