5 Things Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean

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Over the years I’ve counseled some individuals who’ve been horribly sinned against.

At times I did a really poor job of helping them navigate their pain and the process of working toward forgiveness. Forgiving others is clearly commanded by God, and deep down most believers want to, but it isn’t always easy, and lots of questions arise. Questions like, when I forgive must I feel like forgiving? If I forgive you does it mean end of discussion and I can’t talk about my hurt feelings? Does it mean everything’s automatically back to the way it was before you sinned against me? There are whole books written on the subject but here are a few things that forgiveness doesn’t mean.  I hope they are helpful.

The command to forgive doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that we must forgive quickly. When we are sinned against it can be devastating, life-shattering, disillusioning, disorienting. Some sins are easy to forgive, but others can take a long time, much prayer, and much help from God. When someone’s reeling in pain, the first thing they need is our compassion and sympathy, not a quick encouragement to forgive. That will probably be part of the process of helping someone, but not the first step. I regret that at times in the past I was incredibly insensitive to some people’s pain and way too quick to suggest that they meet with those who’d sinned against them and grant forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we will feel like forgiving. Forgiveness is a decision of the will to absorb the pain or consequences caused by someone’s sin and not require them to repay. If you borrow my car and wreck it, someone’s got to pay to fix it, you or me. If I “forgive” you, I make a costly decision to absorb the cost of your failure, just as Jesus absorbed the cost of our sins and paid for them on the cross. So it can be very painful to forgive someone. So the command to forgive doesn’t mean we will “feel forgiving” when we make this decision. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t experience pain for a long time after we forgive.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must immediately trust someone. Forgiveness is instantaneous; trust is earned over time. If a drunkard comes to church and turns to Christ, God forgives him immediately, but he shouldn’t become a leader the next day. If someone asks our forgiveness for hurting us, we can forgive them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve changed. It’s not wrong to want to see a track record of change before trusting someone again, even if we’ve forgiven them.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean end of discussion. How many of us husbands have said to our wives “I said I was sorry. So why do we have to keep talking about it?” Even when we forgive, it can be really important for the one sinned against to share how the offender hurt or affected them. We need to realize the consequences of our sins. Often we need to consider all that led up to our sin – how we got there in the first place – in order to prevent future sin.

And finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences for sin. If I foolishly max out my credit card, then confess my sin, God will forgive me, but I’ll still have to pay off my debt, which might take years. When we forgive someone, we are saying, “Lord, please don’t condemn them for this sin. Please don’t give them what their sin deserves, just as you have not given me what my sins deserve.” But there may still be consequences – even life-long consequences – even when God forgives them of the guilt of their sin.

Sometimes it’s easy to forgive. At other times it feels like an impossible task. Very often, Jesus commands us to do the impossible, like love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (LK 6:27). We can’t do these impossible things on our own, but if God commands them, he will give us the grace to obey him if we ask for it.

Being A Christian Book Mercenary, Hypocrisy In Cleveland, and Other Happy Rant Topics

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It’s the end of the day, and let’s face it: you need a pick me up. How ’bout another episode of The Happy Rant? How much does it cost, you ask? It’s completely free. And that’s not all, it also makes deep fried chicken.

In this episode, Ted, Barnabas, and I, discuss:

  • Whether or not it is hypocritical for Cleveland fans to be happy about the return of Lebron James.
  • What it means to be a Christian book mercenary.
  • Ted’s latest book
  • And other scintillating topics.

You know the drill:

The Fickle Pursuit of Fame

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Fame is a fickle thing. It comes to many who do not seek it and is an unwelcome guest. It avoids many who do seek it leaving them in vain pursuit. When it is found by those who seek it is unsatisfactory and often destructive. After being destructive for period it often abandons them, leaving them in a worse state than they were before it arrived.

And the oddest thing about fame is that the people who manage it best are those who act is if they don’t have it.

Fame creates a riddle that is unsolvable. When one doesn’t have any he wants some, but as soon as he has some he needs more. Once more is found he wants none, but neither can he bear the thought of giving up what he has.

It all makes one wonder why anyone would seek fame?

And yet we do. The desire to be famous burns hot. And if we can’t be famous we want to know famous. That’s why People Magazine  and E! TV are so popular (it’s certainly not because of the creative and artistic value). We brag about seeing actress X at the airport or athlete Y at the grocery store. It’s as if the knowledge of fame or proximity to it rubs a little magic fairy famous dust off onto us so we can feel famousy for a moment.

But what is about Fame that so captivates and nearly stupefies society? Once upon a time it was because of what athletes, actors, musicians, politicians, or authors accomplished, their actions. But now? The aim isn’t to do what they do. Fame is the goal itself. If you need proof just take a gander at so called “reality TV stars” on shows like or the Jackass movies. (As an aside, what does it mean to be a reality” star? You’re more real? You live a realer life?)

People want fame because people want to matter even what makes them famous matters nothing at all. The thought goes like this: “If someone knows who I am I gain significance, so the more people that know me the more significant I am.” Even if you’re known for a 72 day marriage, public drunkenness, stupid stunts, or a sex tape.

Even Christians fall into this trap, and in Christianity the fame bug bites with an even weirder kind of venom. People seek fame through doing good – preaching, writing, giving, serving. But when the fame becomes the motive and not the good that points to God, we know our Christianity is upside down.

Fame, at its best, is a bi-product of doing things that truly matter. It is something that is received, not sought after. We are not wise or good enough to rightly handle fame, and that’s why the best famous people are those who spurn it. For those of us who are not famous we should simply focus on the good and let God get the fame. And by all means, avoid all reality TV.

Jesus Is Not Only Sympathetic; He Can Change Things

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Jesus is not only sympathetic; he can do something about it.

Before he saved me, I didn’t picture Jesus as having much empathy toward me. I thought of him as distant or indifferent.  After all, he had a universe to run. I didn’t know he cared about me personally, much less loved me. But after he opened my blind eyes, one day I found out he was deeply sympathetic to my struggles.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (HEB 4:15)

When someone’s been through the same thing we have, it’s much more meaningful when they give us their sympathy than someone who’s never experienced it. My wife has endured depression and anxiety in varying degrees, sometimes extreme, for many years, so she’s deeply sympathetic to those who suffer in the same ways. I’ve never suffered that particular way. I believe people are suffering terribly, and I seek to empathize, but I can’t comfort them the way Kristi can. The Bible says we are to put on compassion, so I try to imagine their pain, I try to weep with those who weep, but I have to say at times, “I can’t even imagine how horrible this must be for you.” But Kristi can say, “I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.”

Jesus can sympathize with us completely because no matter what we’re experiencing, he’s been there. First, he is able to sympathize with our WEAKNESSES, for he was weak in his human nature. He got hungry, tired and thirsty. He needed sleep and rest. He knew loneliness. He suffered unbelievable physical pain.

Jesus can also sympathize with us when we are TEMPTED – he is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He was tempted in EVERY RESPECT by Satan himself, who threw his worst at him. None of us have probably ever known Satan’s worst temptations.  Jesus was tempted to pride, envy, lust, to love the world, to fear man. He was tempted to anger, to laziness, to be impatient with people – you name it. He was tempted to feel sorry for himself when he was lonely. He was tempted to unbelief. He was tempted to give up. Can you imagine how Jesus was tempted when he told his disciples he was going to be betrayed, tortured, mocked, and crucified and they started arguing about who was the greatest?

Jesus not only sympathizes, but he can do something about our situation.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (16)

So often somebody tells me about a hard time they are going through and I may be sympathetic but often I can’t do anything about it. I can pray for them, but I can’t change their situation. I can’t lift their burden or heal them or take their sadness or provide all they need. I might be able to help a little, but I can’t change their whole situation. If I found someone under a massive tree that had fallen in the forest, I’d feel horrible for them, but couldn’t lift it off.  This is why Jesus is a GREAT high priest. He’s not only sympathetic, but he can DO SOMETHING about our situation – he can save, heal, provide and strengthen.

First, look where Jesus is. He is on “the throne of grace.” Charles Spurgeon says:

“It is a throne set up on purpose for the dispensation of grace; a throne from which every utterance is an utterance of grace; the scepter that is stretched out from it is the scepter of grace; the decrees proclaimed from it our purposes of grace; the gifts that are scattered down it’s golden steps are gifts of grace; and he that sits upon the throne is grace itself.”

Jesus, our great high priest, is waiting and longing to help us.

Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you…(Isaiah 30:18 NASB)

What do we receive at his throne? MERCY and GRACE TO HELP in time of need.

Mercy is NOT GETTING what we DO deserve. We should be punished for our sins but at the throne of grace we find mercy. And grace is GETTING what we DON’T deserve – Blessings, strength, power, help, joy. We can be confident Jesus will give us “grace to help in time of need.”

24 hours a day, we can draw run to our great high priest, knowing he’s infinitely sympathetic and infinitely able to do something about our struggles. Jesus has mercy for our failures and grace for our weaknesses and temptations. And he never tires of our requests. We can’t ask too much or too often. So run to your great high priest today. He longs to be gracious to you.

Happy Birthday, John Newton

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In London, July 24th, 289 years and one day ago, John Henry Newton was born. You may or may not recognize the name, but you know his most famous creation: Amazing Grace, probably the most beloved hymn in the English language. In honor of Newton’s birthday, here is the condensed version of his life story. (For the full account, read John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken.)

Newton’s father was an unbelieving sailor while his mother was a devout Christian, and those two influences would characterize the remainder of Newton’s life. Elizabeth Newton wanted her son to one day enter the ministry, but she died in 1732 and by the age of eleven Newton joined his father’s ship. From that point on Newton’s life was spent at sea, first in his father’s ship, then the Royal Navy, and finally a slaving vessel . Newton consistently rebelled against authority, however, and his employment by slave trader Amos Chow ended with Newton himself a virtual slave to Chow and his African mistress, “a servant of slaves in West Africa” as Newton’s epitaph remembers. Newton was rescued by a merchant ship, the Greyhound, and left Africa for England in the spring of 1748. But God had something in store for Newton than a peaceful return voyage.

On March 10th, a violent storm struck the Greyhound off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. Newton awoke in the middle of the night to a ship on the verge of sinking. In fear for his life Newton called out to God. The Greyhound survived, and Newton never forgot the experience.

You might expect at this point a dramatic life-alteration, a “was blind but now I see” type conversion. Not quite. Something had changed in Newton’s heart, but it took years for Newton to begin walking as a faithful Christian. In fact, after this encounter with God Newton became the captain of several slaving vessels. Still, that stormy night marked the beginning of God’s pursuit of Newton – and God always gets his man. Gradually Newton began to realize the extent of what God had done for him in Christ, and what that meant for his life and conduct. He retired from the sea in 1754 and entered the ministry in 1764. Over the next 43 years, Newton pastored congregations in Olney and London. He wrote numerous hymns; Amazing Grace was created to go along with a New Year’s day sermon in 1773. He also wrote several books, including a narrative of his conversion; wrote a vast quantity of letters of spiritual advice; and influenced numerous younger ministers and Christians, including statesman William Wilberforce, the man God used to lead the movement to abolish the slave trade. Newton died December 21st, 1807 at the age of 82.

From “servant of slaves,” slave-trader, and slave of sin to slave of Christ and son of God. Newton’s story is more colorful and dramatic than most of ours – but only from one perspective. In God’s sight, in the eyes of the angels who rejoice in heaven over one repentant sinner, every conversion – whether in a sinking ship or a kneeling by your bed in the quiet of the night – is a miracle of God’s power comparable only to the creation of the world itself (see 2 Cor. 4:6). Because of that, every Christian knows the thrill of singing, with Newton and every other son and daughter of the Lord:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me.
I was once lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

Barnabas Piper’s Dysfunctional Family, And Other Happy Rant Topics

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Boys and girls, it’s time for another episode of The Happy Rant, with Stephen Altrogge, Ted Kluck, and Barnabas Piper. In this episode we talk about:

  • The reaction to Barnabas’ new book, The Pastor’s Kid, including the interview about his “dysfunctional family”.
  • Worship songs and worship leader looks that need to be retired.
  • Nicknames for each of us (I’m particularly proud of the nickname I came up with for Ted).
  • Movies that get better each time you watch them.

You know the drill:

It’s Time For Some Radical, Crazy, End-Times Living

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If you knew the world was about to end, what would you do? I mean, seriously, if you knew that it was all going down in just a few months, how would you live? I’d probably quit my job, sell all my stuff, and try to get really radical for Jesus. You know, maybe some street corner preaching, maybe some 30 days fasts, maybe some crazy mission trips. If I knew Jesus was coming back, I’d want to get down to business.

In recent years, there have been a slew of books published which encourage Christians to be more radical for Jesus. To have crazy love for Jesus, which leads us to do crazy awesome things for Jesus. To be world changers for Jesus. To do hard things. To push the Jesus envelope.

And while I’m all for being radical for Jesus, we need to think carefully about what being radical really means. Fortunately, it’s spelled out pretty clearly in scripture.

In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter tells his readers that the end is coming. He says that, “The end of all things is at hand…” He wants his readers to be ready for the return of Jesus. He doesn’t want them to be caught off-guard. After all, Peter was very familar with Jesus’ promise that he would come like a thief in the night, or like a master returning to his servants late at night. Peter wanted his readers to be living radically, because the end of all things was (and is) at hand. He wanted to awaken the sleepy and provoke the apathetic.

So what does Peter tell his readers to do?

…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Dang son. That doesn’t sound too exciting. What about forming communes and doing crazy evangelism and fasting for weeks at a time? Where’s all that stuff?

It turns out that radical, passionate, end-times living, looks pretty ordinary. Being radical means being self-controlled and sober-minded. It means earnestly, zealously loving your fellow brothers and sisters. It means showing hospitality with a cheerful attituded. It means using the spiritual gifts God has given you to serve those around you.

The reality is, being radical for Jesus usually takes place in the context of your home, community, and local church. Is there a place for mission trips, long fasts, and hardcore evangelism? Of course. But if you want to be consistently radical, you need to be aware of what is taking place right around you. Who can you serve in your community? Who can you love in your church? How can you use your gifts to serve your fellow Christians?

If the world was going to end in a few months, I would want to throw myself even more zealously into the lives of those around me. And given the fact that, “The end of all things is at hand,” I should be radically involved in my home, community, and church every day.

The end is coming. Are you ready?

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