Giving Away “Unpacking Forgiveness”

Just a friendly reminder that we’re giving away the book Unpacking Forgiveness on Monday as part of the 2009 Great American Book Giveaway.

It’s not too late to enter the contest!

Here’s the down-low on the book:

“True or false: most Christian pastors and counselors agree on what forgiveness is and how it should take place.” This question is part of Chris Brauns’s Forgiveness Quiz that draws readers into his book and gets them thinking about the subject of forgiveness. The truth is, pastors and counselors disagree profoundly on this subject. Unpacking Forgiveness combines sound theological thinking and honesty about the complicated questions many face to provide readers with a solid understanding of biblical forgiveness.

Only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness. The wounds are too deep for us to find healing on our own, and the questions are too complex to be unraveled by anything but the wisdom of God. This book goes beyond a feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness, balancing the beauty of God’s grace and the necessity of forgiveness with the teaching that forgiveness must take place in a way that is consistent with justice.

When God Applies Bandages

In Psalm 147:3-4 we read, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.”

I have to admit, when I read these verses I was astonished. This was a picture of God I hadn’t encountered before. The stark contrast between the two verses astonished me. Think about these verses for a moment with me.

Verse 4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars. There are billions of galaxies spread across the universe and within each of these galaxies there are billions of stars. Each of these stars is blazing with brilliant light and blazing heat. We are tiny and weak compared to a star. And there are billions upon billions of stars.

Yet God knows the exact number of stars, and He gives to each star a name. Ponder this truth. God knows each star individually, and He gives a name to each star. How great is our God! Most studies show that humans can only hold between five and seven things in their mind at one time. God holds all the stars in His mind, and He gives each one a name. Do you feel the greatness of God? When you look at the night sky, do you feel the immensity of God?

But we don’t just serve a great God, we serve a tender God. The Psalmist tells us that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. God cares about those who are brokenhearted. Our great, infinite, awesome God, cares about our sadness. This is astonishing. The God who keeps the planets in orbit is the one who binds up our wounds. God is infinitely great, and God is infinitely tender.

Let us worship God for his greatness and love him for his tenderness. He is the one who heals our sadness and repairs our broken hearts. Our almighty God is the one who gently binds our wounds. How can we not love such a God? How can we not find all our joy in such a God? Today let us worship our great and tender God.

Originally published January 29, 2008

A Cosmic Mr. Rogers?

We should be nice to people, right?  I mean, like, do random acts of kindness.  Do something good every day.  Pay it forward.  But why?

One website reports “A rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act is often referred to as a “helper’s high,” involving physical sensations and the release of the body’s natural painkillers, the endorphins.” (actsofkindness.org)

I haven’t felt that good since the 70’s.

God commands Christians to do deliberate and at times painful “acts of kindness.”  But not because it feels good.  God’s not a cosmic Mr. Rogers, zipping up his infinitely large sweater, saying, “It’s nice to share.” It truly is nice to share, but it’s also really hard to share at times, as selfish as I can be. God tells me to “just do it”:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…And above all these put on love…CO 3.12-14

Why should we “put on” kindness?  Because of God’s prior costly kindness to us that has made us new creations in Christ.  We love because he first loved us, giving Jesus to be slaughtered in our place.  We put on sympathy, forgiveness, and patience because in his kindness, God chose us, sanctified us and loved us.

Chosen

Before God created the universe, he chose us for himself, knowing we’d crucify his beloved Son, knowing every sin we’d ever commit.  In light of our new identity as chosen ones, how can we not be gracious toward others?

Holy

God has made us holy – set us apart in Christ.  He’s called us who are vile, repeat sinners his holy ones.  Shouldn’t we then be patient with our teenager’s struggles?  Shouldn’t we be gentle with weak believers?

Beloved

Our heavenly Father has loved us eternally.  He loves us today, weak and worthless as we are.  He calls us his “beloved”, the same term he uses for Jesus.  Since we’re so loved by God, shouldn’t we love others?

Chosen, holy, beloved.  That’s who God has made us in Christ.  So do deliberate, costly acts of kindness.

photo by dogwelder

Fresh Hope For Pathetic Prayers

Sometimes hearing other people pray makes me feel like a snake-handling pagan. See if you can relate.

I’m praying with my church peeps on a Wednesday night. One of them in particular is in a prayer fury (and I mean that in a good way): “Lord let your kingdom come to Asia. We want to see souls won for the gospel. We ask you to raise up men and women who will proclaim your name.” Those around me are loudly adding “Yes” and “Amen” into the mix. If things continue at this level of intensity heaven itself might burst open and shower blessings on us.

Meanwhile I’m bobbing my head in agreement, trying to toss in a “Yes, Amen” every now and then, but my heart is a million miles away. I’m thinking about lunch, or football, or how sweet my new shoes look (gold and blue in case you were wondering). There’s a serious disconnect between what we’re praying about and how I feel (or don’t feel) about it.

And to be honest, I hate it when this happens. I hate it when the intensity of my heart doesn’t match the weightiness of the prayer. It’s discouraging to say the least.

But recently I heard Mike Bullmore give some very simple and encouraging advice regarding pathetic prayers like mine. He said that he often asks God to help him feel the weight of what someone is praying. He asks God to stir his affections so that he too would desire what is being prayed.

That’s it. Nothing mystical. No magical amulets or prayer labryinths involved. Just a simple prayer to God that acknowledges weakness and asks for grace. God loves to answer prayers like this.

So rather than giving myself a spiritual beatdown every time my heart feels cold, I offer up this simple request to God: “Lord, please help me also desire what is being prayed.”

It’s given me fresh hope for my pathetic prayers.

+photo by victoria0805

Faith At 10,000 Feet

He sat chained to a rocking slave-trader’s cart, watching his sneering brothers disappear over the horizon as the caravan trundled toward Egypt.  Had his back-stabbing brothers really done this to him?

Joseph didn’t know it at the time, but he wouldn’t see his brothers or his father again for many years.  He’d never see his home again.  He didn’t know he’d become an Egyptian slave, then be unjustly accused and tossed into prison for years.

But neither did he know he’d interpret his fellow prisoners’ dreams, which would lead him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and be promoted to the most powerful position in Egypt under Pharaoh.  Nor did he know that in a “twist” of providence, his own childhood dream would come to pass.  His treacherous brothers would bow before him, finding themselves at his mercy.  Which is exactly what Joseph showed them.

“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (GE 45.5).

How was Joseph able to be so merciful?  Because he’d seen how God had used his brothers’ sins to bring incredible blessings into his life and thousands of others’ lives.

Joseph didn’t gloss over their sin – he said, “You sent me here.”  But Joseph had seen how God used their betrayal to position him to provide food in a famine for multitudes, including his brothers and father.  Now he saw the bigger picture – God had sent him to Egypt.

When others hurt us it’s hard to see past the offense to God’s grand designs.  It’s like trying to see through a forest at ground level.  We need to rise to 10,000 feet to see the bigger picture through the eyes of faith.  When we remember God is sovereign, it’s much easier to be merciful.

photo by FutureFashion

Thanks Mr. Car Repair Man

Most of you are probably not aware of this, but today is “I Sure Am Grateful For…” day. On this holiday (which is celebrated in rural Pennsylvania and Central Mexico) we honor those who make our lives livable – those people that regularly spare us from death and/or homelessness. Today I’m honoring Karl.

Karl is my car mechanic. I need a car mechanic because I have the car repair skills of a thumbless orangutan (okay that may be an exaggeration – thumbed orangutan is more accurate). Apparently I was playing video games when they passed out the car skills kit, because I have none (although I can play a wicked XBox). My car maintenance skill set consists of the following: change windshield wiper fluid, put air into tires, squeegee the windshield. That’s it. And that’s why I desperately need Karl.

Here’s what a typical conversation between me and Karl looks like:

ME: Karl, I’ve got a problem with my car that I need you take a look at.

KARL: What’s the problem?

ME: Every time I go around a turn it makes an odd sound.

KARL: What sort of sound?

ME [feeling more insecure by the minute]: It sounds kind of like tingaling, tingaling, tingaling. It also tends to make a strange noise when I go over a bump. Kind of like swishersash, swishersash.

KARL [with a thoughtful, knowing look on his face]: Hmm. You’ve probably got some sort of short in your defibrillator belt, or a leak in your headlight gasket. Could be a blown triple-axle valve. I’ll take a look at it and let you know.

ME: Yeah, that’s probably it.

Several hours later Karl will inform that it was indeed a blown triple-axle valve, and that my registration was expired. Karl is a lifesaver.

So here’s to you Karl. Thanks for making my life livable and for keeping me from death and/or homelessness. Apart from your hard work, my car would most likely be on fire.

Okay, the floor’s open. Who are you grateful for today?

The Impregnable Fortress Of The Human Heart

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (AC 16.14).

What a miracle is conversion!

Before God opened our hearts we were spiritually dead – darkened, blind, deaf, ignorant and unable to understand the things of God.  Hardened, deceived and enslaved by Satan. We hated God and loved wallowing in the mudpits of our rebellion, flinging God’s word behind us (PS 50.17).

The unregenerate heart is an impregnable fortress.

No amount of human reasoning can crack this stronghold’s walls.  Pleading, begging, or dangling someone over the very pit of hell won’t.  Jonathan Edwards tag teaming with George Whitefield wouldn’t.  Jesus said that even if someone came back from afterlife it wouldn’t convince the wicked heart (LK 16.31).

Unregenerate hearts are invincible – except to Christ.  To break through the bunkers of our blindness and ignorance requires the divine lightning bolt power of the Lord of Hosts.  Charles Spurgeon said that in order to save us, Jesus stormed our hearts like a mighty warrior and demolished every wall opposing him.  But he didn’t stop there.  He gave us new hearts, infused with life and the Spirit of God, new hearts that long for his word, like newborns for milk.

Enlightening the human heart is a miracle of greater magnitude than creation, when God said “Let there be light” (2 CO 4.6).  A miracle even more amazing than when Jesus spoke to Lazarus, who’d been dead and in the tomb for 4 days and raised him to life.

Do you see Jesus as your beautiful God and Savior?  Then praise your Heavenly Father today for his awesome, miraculous power that opened your heart.  And keep praying that Christ will open the hearts of your unsaved friends and family members.  He has the power to tear down the mightiest walls.

photo by Portugese_eyes

What’s Your Disposition?

This quote is jimmy-jam packed with pastoral wisdom. John Owen understood that the way our bodies are wired can shape the nature of our temptations.

For example, I’m particularly prone to the sin of worry. When the budget gets tight, I don’t just worry in my head, I feel it in my chest. Anxiety. Squeezing, gripping, joy-stealing. As if someone has placed a large iron dumbbell directly on my chest. Anxious feelings then drag me back into the ring of anxious thoughts, and I take another beating from my worried mind. It’s a brutal cycle.

So can I just write off anxiety, or anger, or any other temptation as “just the way I am”? Nope! Rather, knowing the temptations that are particular to me helps me fight sin more effectively. Knowing my particular temptations allows me to prepare for the battle ahead of time.

A sinking bank balance is a like a signal flare: Get ready, the battle is coming! Arm yourself with scripture, prayer, and fellowship, because it’s going to be intense. It’s going to be an all out brawl against both your mind and your body.

What are the signal flares in your life? Do you know yourself? Are you familiar with the hard-wiring of your mind and body? What sins are particularly difficult to fight?

Knowing these things will help you prepare for the battle ahead of time – to pick up the sword of scripture before you’re in the heat of the battle. Know yourself. Know your sins. Prepare for battle.