Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Shalom Liddick ~ Your Brother’s Keeper, Sister’s Keeper: Intercessory Prayer

Note from the Editor: This weekend our sermon on intercessory prayer comes from Rev. Shalom Liddick. She and her husband Rev. Mike Liddick are church planters of a Wesleyan congregation, Resurrection Life Church, in Marana, Arizona. Click play to listen to this sermon in its entirety. A short excerpt is featured below.

Rev. Shalom Liddick, “Brother’s Keeper, Sister’s Keeper” Resurrection Life Church
January 5, 2020

To know the heart of God, we need to remain in God. John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and I remain in you, you can come and ask and I will give it to you.” When you remain in God, you know the mind of God.

When we begin the New Year, we start making resolutions – “new year, new you.” We begin to think about ourselves and what we need to change – we turn inward. “What about me needs to change?”

But read in Isaiah 62:6-7 – “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

When they built communities, they surrounded them with tall walls to try to protect the people inside from attacks – animals, war. When they built these walls, they posted people at different sections of the walls. These people were called watchmen. Their job is to have eyes to see what is coming. To see a runner who has news, to see an attack – to see what is coming and to alert and announce to prepare, to do something.

In this new year, you are watchmen, watchwomen.

When we make resolutions about how life is going for us, remember: you are your brother’s keeper; you are your sister’s keeper. You’re a watchman. And where God has placed you, God has placed you on purpose.

Watchmen stand in the middle to communicate, to see, to defend. An intercessor stands in the middle to intervene on behalf of somebody else. The word “intercessor” is a word of the courtroom – you stand in the middle to intervene for somebody else in intercessory prayer.

Intercessory prayer is prayer given up to God, when you stand in the middle to intervene for somebody else. God calls me and calls you to be people who get in the middle and say, “God, can you help my sister? Can you help my brother? Can you help my community?” If you keep aware in your community because you talk to neighbors, you talk to friends – it makes it really hard to make a New Year’s resolution that’s just, “new year, new me.”

Something that should give you hope is the knowledge that God is present in every situation – every calamity, every disaster. No matter what your friend is facing, no matter what the news says, God is present in every situation. God is present – in the middle – of everything.

I’m your keeper – you are mine. The fact that God came to Cain and asked, “where is your brother?” tells me something. It tells me God will ask me about my friends. God will ask me about my community. “Hey – where is…?” It is my responsibility to pray for you. Where are you, friend? We live in a culture where we want to be independent. But I need to make it a point to always present you before God, and you need to make it a point to present me before God.

In John 17 we see Jesus praying for us before we even came to be. And here we are. I come before God with the expectation that God hears me. When it comes to your intercessory prayer life, don’t get stuck in that one thing that you think God didn’t answer. Prayer works, and our job and our duty is to continue to bring our friends, our community to God. The awesome thing about our relationship with God is that God allows us to do that.

Andrew Thompson ~ Reaction in Relationships: The Power to Forgive

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That is Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. It explains how birds fly and fish swim. Jump on a trampoline and you’ll experience the third law firsthand: You force the bounce mat down, and it springs back to throw you up into the air. Newton’s law applies to actions and reactions in the physical world. But we can also see a similar law in human relationships. When you act emotionally toward someone else, he or she will always react back toward you.

Offer love to another, and you expect to receive that love back again. But lash out in anger, and the response will be different. Just as with Newton’s law, the character of the emotional reaction is determined by the initial act itself.

This isn’t so much the law of motion as it is the law of the heart. We’re made with it stitched into our souls. Human relationships work on an action-reaction dynamic. So wouldn’t it be great if we always acted out of love? And wouldn’t life be simpler if our loving acts were always interpreted as we meant them to be?

Unfortunately, the analogy between the law of motion and the law of the heart does have a limit. A bird’s wings beating against the air or a body’s weight on a trampoline are impersonal forces. There is no moral quality to motion.

Human relationships are very different. With us, the impersonal becomes very personal! Every one of our relationships has a moral character to it. We don’t, in fact, always act as we should. Even when we do, our actions and attitudes are not always interpreted as we mean them to be. The sinful and broken reality of life intrudes on every relationship we have.

Instead of love, we act in anger. Rather than gratitude, we experience greed. Given the opportunity to show compassion, we show cruelty instead. The clarity we wish existed in person-to-person interactions is missing; in its place we find the fuzziness of mistaken intentions and plain misunderstandings.

The law of the heart—as it turns out—is more like the law of the broken heart. The presence of sin within us ends up affecting our interactions at every level—a vicious cycle of hurt and revenge. Husbands and wives experience it in marriage. It thrives both in the workplace and the marketplace. Politics is rife with it. It’s the reason wars are fought in every age.

We don’t have to be convinced that love should be met with love, and anger with anger. We just don’t seem to know how to choose love rather than reaction consistently. Sometimes we don’t even know how to interpret love when it comes our way. We act out of anger and hate and resentment, and we react in those ways when others provoke us. And so we feed a monster whose appetite is endless.

From Reaction to Forgiveness

Our dilemma is that we ought to act and react in love; but instead, we find ourselves doing the contrary. The Christian faith has a solution to the cycle of hurt and revenge, though, and it lies at the heart of the Gospel. That solution is found in forgiveness.

We first must realize that there’s nothing natural about forgiveness. To practice it, we have to react to others in ways that are not equal and opposite to the actions upon us. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love,” the Prayer of Saint Francis puts it, and this is exactly the counter-intuitive commitment that forgiveness requires. It’s so difficult that we cannot do it on our own.

The need for forgiveness to be at the center of human relationships is demonstrated by the fact that forgiveness was at the very center of Jesus Christ’s ministry. He came into the world claiming the power to forgive sins. It was this very act that caused the religious authorities to oppose him saying, “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)

We see in the crucifixion how the Son of Man who came to forgive sins finally becomes the agent of forgiveness through his own body. His sacrifice upon the cross mediates God’s forgiveness to the whole world. As the Apostle Paul puts it to the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are all called to receive Christ’s forgiveness. We come to know it through a sure trust and confidence in him and the power of his atonement for our sin.

Learning to forgive is the only path to truly loving relationships with others. And Jesus shows us that to acquire the forgiving heart which allows us to forgive each and every day, we must first come to know what it means to be forgiven.

Forgiveness and Sanctification

We are reconciled to God when we receive forgiveness in Christ. That is a monumental spiritual experience! But we haven’t fully overcome our problem just by being forgiven. We need both pardon for sin and the power to overcome its corrupting effects as we move forward in our lives. Without the power added to the pardon, I could hear the message of the cross with joy as it pertains to God’s forgiveness of me, while going right ahead and dealing out vengeance on all those I think have wronged me.

So where can any of us find that power?

John Wesley’s account of how the power of forgiveness is conveyed into the lives of believers is helpful on this point. Wesley’s view on the power of forgiveness is full of deep spiritual insight—especially as it is related to the way that forgiveness can transform us inwardly. Take for example the familiar story of Wesley’s experience on Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. Sometimes we can sentimentalize Wesley’s “heart strangely warmed” and confine its importance it to a moment of his personal spiritual journey. But Wesley’s narration of the Aldersgate story in his Journal makes a statement about the profound importance of forgiveness within the experience of salvation for all of us. Here’s how he describes what happened to him that evening:

“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley is sharing one of the primary convictions of heart-warmed Christianity in this testimony: God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ is meant to be received personally by every child of God. This is what it means to know God as Father, and it is the way we are adopted into God’s family. The reconciliation we find in forgiveness is such a dramatic experience that it gives us new birth.

In Wesley’s view, though, the power of forgiveness extends beyond the moment of our reconciliation to God. Forgiveness is a part of our ongoing spiritual growth as well. To be redeemed—fully redeemed—means to be transformed by the love of God.

So when the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians that Christ Jesus is the one, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14), Wesley writes in his New Testament commentary, “forgiveness is the beginning of redemption, as the resurrection is the completion of it.” He links the pardon of the cross with the power of the resurrection, not wanting us to diminish any part of the fullness of redemption.

On the other hand, Wesley also understands that forgiveness continues to work in us as a special kind of power, forming the very virtues that will nurture a forgiving heart. Later in Colossians, Paul says we should embrace compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience—and finally love. And in the midst of that counsel, Paul emphasizes the need for Christians to forgive one another. “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you forgive” (Col 3:13), he writes.

Wesley adds in his New Testament commentary that those who have been renewed by Christ’s forgiveness are none other than the elect of God. He writes, “holiness is the consequence of their election, and God’s superior love, of their holiness.”

So God’s forgiveness begins a renewal—a healing—in the soul. And the character of that renewal is a soul filled with God’s love. This is what it means to be made complete, as Wesley points out using the New Testament’s language of “perfection”: “The love of God contains the whole of Christian perfection, and connects all the parts of it together.”

The power of forgiveness is rooted in the fact that it is an act of God’s love. So forgiveness cancels our sin and then begins to heal us of that sin entirely, all the while enabling us to begin forgiving others. Forgiveness, in this sense, is the very rhythm of redemption – our redemption and the redemption of all our relationships.

“We love him because he first loved us,” Wesley tells us in the sermon, On Family Religion. That love is, fundamentally, the “love of a pardoning God.” It’s a love that “may admit of a thousand degrees” (for not all of us are at the same place in our journey).

But it always makes us thankful for Christ’s gift to us and compassionate toward all others for whom Christ died. “Gratitude to our Creator will surely produce benevolence to our fellow-creatures,” Wesley tells us. “If we love him, we cannot but love one another, as Christ loved us.” Then he goes on: “And toward all the children of God we put on ‘…kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us’.” We learn to forgive in love, because the loving forgiveness we have received makes us into new creatures.

While life in this world makes it easy for us to react to others with a hard and self-centered temper, the forgiveness we receive through Christ teaches us a better way. Knowing mercy, we are made merciful. Having been forgiven, we learn to forgive. And then we are welcomed into the company of Jesus’ true friends, where we begin, “steadily walking in all his ways, [and] doing his will from the heart.”

This is the power of forgiveness—the power that will save us and the power that will ultimately transform this world.

A version of this originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2014.

Andy Stoddard ~ The Gift of Brokenness

I’m a pretty happy and optimistic guy.  I tend to believe the best of other people, and by and large, I expect things to work out alright.  I take Romans 8:28 literally and seriously – God will somehow work out things for good.

I tend to be an optimistic and grace-full preacher.  I believe in hell, but I’m not a hellfire preacher. I tend to think that grace is a greater motivator to faithfulness than fear is. I have always taken Paul’s words in Romans 2:4 to heart with my preaching: “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” I like to leave people with a pep in their step on Sunday morning.  I like to leave them with grace on their lips. I want them to enter into the world hopeful, peaceful, and more focused on Jesus than on their sin. 

Except for Lent. 

In Lent, yes, we need to know that we are loved.  But there is something else we need to know. We need to know this – we are sinful.  We are broken. We are fallen. We are ashes, and to ashes we will return.

We can’t run from this.  No matter how powerful, wealthy, famous, or holy we are, we are ashes.  No matter how great of an influencer on social media we are, we are ashes. No matter how big a church we are part of, we are ashes.  We are ashes. We are broken. We are sinful.

And you know what? 

This realization of brokenness is one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive.  Lent is a powerful and beautiful reminder of the gift of that realization. Once we receive this gift, we can truly live.  This realization gives us several life-changing truths.

First, brokenness is equality.  We are all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  We all inherit original sin. In our age, we like to talk more about “sins” than our “sinful nature.” Sins are things we do (what I jokingly call smoking, drinking, and cussing).  In our minds, there is always someone worse than us. Yeah, we’ve messed up, but look at themThey are much worse than we can ever be. 

If we look at our brokenness in terms of sin, then there are stratifications. There are better and worse than’s.  But that is not how we are called to look at it. We are all sinful. It isn’t just that we have all messed up, but it is that we all have a broken, sinful nature. We all desire that which is sinful.  You, me, our moms and dads, our preachers and bishops, all of us. We are all “sinful.” Jesus didn’t just come to forgive for our sins; he came to free us and restore us. When Adam and Eve fell, our nature was corrupted. That affects every last one of us.  Charles Wesley put it this way in his great hymn Love Divine:

Take away our bent to sinning;

Alpha and Omega be

We all have that “bent to sinning.”  Everyone one of us. All of us. You are sinful.You are broken. You are. Yes. You. Me.  All of us.

But here is the joy: that truth doesn’t make you the scum of the earth.  It makes you human. We are all broken. We are all sinful. We are all frail.

There is equality in our brokenness.  We all stand equal before God, no matter what. We are all broken. That makes us all equal, no matter what.

Second, brokenness is clarity.  If we ever, ever, ever really understand our brokenness, then we have the ability to see ourselves as we really are.  Broken and in need of a Savior. When we understand that, then healing can really begin.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. If you’ve not read it, you need to stop what you are doing, go and buy it, and read it. In this book, he deals with our need for grace and the reckless God who gives us grace, unearned. Listen to what he writes:

At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.

This clarity – you are sinful, I am too – when we realize that, when we truly know that we are sinful, then we are able to clearly see how amazing God’s grace is.  God knows the worst about us and loves us anyway. Our brokenness gives us clarity to see ourselves as we are, and to see just how much God truly loves us. 

Finally, brokenness is opportunity.  When we know our brokenness, as well as God’s great love for us, in spite of it all, we have an opportunity – an opportunity to be remade, reformed, reborn.  We go from being the Pharisees thankful that we are not tax collectors to the tax collector simply thankful for God’s love.

Understanding our brokenness allows us to truly reveal and marvel in God’s grace.  Understanding our brokenness puts on the path of recovery, the path of wholeness, the path of holiness. This path that understands it’s not about our morality and getting it right, but it’s about our humility and submission to Jesus and following Jesus. 

Our brokenness is our opportunity to be truly faithful.

This Lent, you are sinful.  You are imperfect. You are broken.  So am I. May we take this realization as a means of grace. And may we allow ourselves to be recreated into the people that God is calling us to be.  We are equal in brokenness, we are equally in grace. May this gift make us whole.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Healing Power of Honoring Others

Recently I read a moving account of one German woman’s actions and the impact that they had. A 92-year-old man living in New Jersey received a three-page letter from her in which she apologized for wrongs long past. Reading it, he wept. 

As the article recounts about the letter writer, “Doris Schott-Neuse…told him how her grandfather had acquired Hirschmann’s family home under the Nazis, expressing her shame and imploring him for forgiveness.” When Hirschmann was young, he had had to escape Germany and the purge of Jewish people; he arrived in the United States leaving his unrecognizable homeland behind. For years, Schott-Neuse wondered how her family had acquired the house since they came into ownership of such a nice property for so little. 

“It seems to be only now that we – the grandchildren generation of the men and women who became criminals – start to ask tough questions of the degree and way our families have been involved and actively contributed not only to a war but to the shoah [Holocaust],” writes Schott-Neuse. 

The urgent truth that this moving story illustrates is a simple, powerful one: honor is healing.  

Showing honor to a person who carries visible or invisible wounds stitches back together in a small way what’s been torn apart, especially when, individually, we cannot comprehend the uniqueness of their suffering. Whether we pay special honor to veterans of war, or orphans and foster children, or women who have been raped, or acquaintances who are pulled over four or five times a month because they drive a car that’s “too nice,” to go out of our way to actively pursue ways to honor others is to promote healing, understanding, and community. 

Apologizing even when you individually did not wrong someone can mean that you are honoring their story and experience. It is a way of standing in proxy for those individuals or groups unable or unwilling to confess their wrong and ask forgiveness. This is not the same as poorly exercising boundaries in terms of burdensome feelings of guilt or responsibility, because it does not come from misdirected feelings of shame or a weak sense of self; rather, it comes from a steady sense of self that cerebrally bears witness to others’ pain and seeks to recognize the power that self may have to, in some way, comfort the grief and anger of a person who has been singularly wronged. 

Hirschmann’s response, immediately accepting the letter of apology, bears witness to this truth: “it is obvious that you, too, are suffering and it pains me to think of that — you, who are blameless,” further corresponding, “You were not satisfied…and examined the depths of your heart to reveal the era’s true impact. You had the option to ignore it and instead, you confronted it. My tears reflect the fervent hope that the humanity, dignity, and compassion you have shown is shared by others of your generation and the generations to follow.” 

It is worth asking, what hurts do you carry that someone has honored through respect for your experience? When have you experienced healing, peace, and forgiveness through someone going out of their way to apologize or make amends for a time in which you were dishonored? 

And – perhaps more difficult – who can you honor through apology, respect, or action, even if you have not personally, individually wronged them?  

Aaron Perry ~ Boundaries and Forgiveness

Jesus taught that if, when offering a gift to God at the altar, you remember a brother or sister has something against you, you should go and be reconciled and then return to offer your gift (Matt. 5:24). I get the impression that reconciliation is the gift God intends to give the worshipper—even before a gift has been brought to God.

Reconciliation is a complex subject because it involves three contexts: the offended, the offender, and the previous (or ongoing) relationship between the two. And reconciliation is so serious that if reconciliation is not forthcoming between two parties in the church, Jesus offered the resources of the family of faith and even his very presence to help (Matt. 18:15-20). Reconciliation is so important that Jesus put responsibility on both the offended (Matt. 18:15: “If your brother or sister sins,” with some manuscripts adding “against you”) and the offender (Matt. 5:23: “your brother or sister has something against you”) to seek reconciliation.

Is there a greater witness to the power of God than reconciliation? In an age of fast and loose friendship, of digital unfriending where one can “friend” without befriending, and when political candidates caused rifts between previously functional families and long-time friends, could a more courageous practice than reconciliation be imagined? As a Wesleyan, my hope in the ability of God to reconcile even the hardest of situations remains high; furthermore, as a Wesleyan, my appreciation for wisdom and practical theology runs deep. Reconciliation brings together hope and wisdom like no other challenge because reconciliation can take hard work and sometimes only happens over time.

“Build the wall!” Perhaps the most memorable phrase of the 2016 election, it captured and made concrete the policy desire to increase border security and immigration regulation. It captured the imagination not only because it rolled much more easily off the tongue than typical policy speak, but also because it is something that each of us has been tempted to do: build walls in our own personal relationships. For our own emotional safety, we have constructed walls between ourselves and another and tightened regulations about when and how the other can (re-)enter our lives. But how do we connect this kind of personal “border security” with the call to be reconciled? How do we have boundaries while maintaining openness to be reconciled? OK. Let’s put away the political connotations for a bit. Let’s overlap this metaphor with a framework of forgiveness to see how it might help us understand boundaries and reconciliation.  

Three Kinds of Forgiveness 

Steve Sandage describes three different kinds of forgiveness1 

  • Legal forgiveness: this forgiveness is an act of the will, allowing another to forego punishment. Sandage notes that in couples’ therapy, legal forgiveness might be a commitment to “bite one’s tongue”—not to respond with hostility or to be aggressive in arguing one’s side at every opportunity.  
  • Therapeutic forgiveness: Whereas legal forgiveness can be done instantly—and might be needed in an instant!—therapeutic forgiveness takes time. This is a place of healing for the offended. Without excusing the offense, the offended sees the offender in a new light and starts to bear empathy toward the offender’s own self and story. In this empathy and reconsideration of one’s story, there is healing. 
  • Redemptive forgiveness: This is the aim of the previous approaches to forgiveness. The full expression of forgiveness is reconciliation and redemption, so that God may transform our relationships not only with God but with each other. 

Personal Boundaries 

Before placing each category of forgiveness into the wall metaphor, let’s consider boundaries. We all have boundaries—invisible and visible lines inside of which we are safe and at ease. Some boundaries are very easy to identify. Skin is a physical boundary, so if you break my skin and I’m okay with it, then it’s likely that you’re a surgeon, nurse, or phlebotomist. (I don’t have a tattoo and don’t plan on getting one.)  

Other boundaries are harder to determine and may be relative. Some people hug everyone, some people hug only a few, and some people don’t hug. Time boundaries are also relative. For example, it likely depends on your relationship for how long a person might spend at your house and not cross your boundaries. My mom has a phrase: “Fish and visitors stink after three days.” My guess is that if you’ve been a guest in my parents’ house and stayed longer than three days, then you’re either a really good friend or you’ve never been invited back.  

We also have emotional boundaries. When another makes fun of something precious to our lives, overextends their help in a way that feels demeaning, or takes from us without asking, our emotional boundaries are crossed.  

When boundaries are crossed, there is usually pain, but sometimes pleasure. Boundaries can be broached in ways that are exciting or comforting, such as when another extends into the beloved’s space to embrace or kiss or when deep knowledge of a person is used not to abuse, but to serve. For our purposes, I want to focus on when boundaries are crossed and there is discomfort and pain. 

Boundaries should get marked definitively when there is pain at their crossing. A boundary might get marked by saying, “That makes me uncomfortable,” “That hurts my feelings,” or simply, “No.” Unfortunately, sometimes we do not mark boundaries and the offending person might continue to trespass boundaries without awareness or without care. When the unaware offender realizes there is a boundary, they might respect the boundary, but when the apathetic offender realizes there is a boundary, they will continue to break it over and over again. In these times, we must build a wall. Boundaries that will not be respected must be protected.

But just what kind of wall is built matters a great deal. Some walls (figuratively) are built with razor wire, spikes, armed turrets, and alligator-lined moats. These walls are dangerous. They are meant to be dangerous. They mark boundaries and warn the trespasser not to approach them—ever. They are weaponized walls: what was supposed to protect will be used to attack if given the chance.  

Other walls are built with no less strength but are simply defensive. Rather than being lined with razor wire, they are lined with padding on the outside. When the offender comes close to the offended, they are not injured, but neither can they broach the wall. An attitude that seeks not to escalate ongoing conflict and not to react aggressively at any opportunity builds the padded wall.  

Legal Forgiveness 

Legal forgiveness is the padded wall. An attitude of legal forgiveness does not pretend that there is a functional relationship, but neither does it perpetuate the conflict. Legal forgiveness has marked boundaries and judged that what happened was wrong, but does not seek to attack given the opportunity. 

Let’s put this back in Jesus’ teaching. Suppose you are the offended person who has built a wall. What might the offender find if they have left their gift at the altar to be reconciled to you? Will they be impaled on spikes? Nipped by the released hounds? Will the wall that is constructed become your weapon to inflict pain on them? It’s only a matter of time in life before any person needs to approach another for forgiveness and wonders what reception might be waiting for them.  

Therapeutic Forgiveness 

But why build walls at all? Like a surgeon cutting the same incision over and over again, when boundaries continue to be trespassed, there cannot be healing. When there are no walls and the wrong, unwanted, and/or misguided crossing of boundaries continues without correction, then forgiveness is simply not the right action. There can be no meaningful forgiveness in the midst of intentional, ongoing injustice.2 This is not to say that the offended, who in the case of ongoing injustice is powerless to achieve change, must harbor bitterness, angst, and frustration. It is only to say that that kind of grace and freedom is best described as gracious suffering, not forgiveness. The offended may be afforded a kind of emotional peace by God in the midst of ongoing injustice, but forgiveness is not the appropriate action.3

So, why build walls? We build walls on our boundaries in order to allow for healing. Walls built with legal forgiveness allow for therapeutic healing to happen behind them. They are meant to stop the offense so that the offended may recover, heal, and grow without worry that the offenses are going to continue unchecked. 

Redemptive Forgiveness 

Redemptive forgiveness recognizes that there is still ongoing work and opportunity even when boundaries are marked and healing has taken place. Forgiveness where injustice has ceased and therapeutic healing is taking place might still lead to reconciliation. Once there is healing, made possible by the wall, redemptive forgiveness allows for the crossing of boundaries once again, but with safety and security. 

Let’s go back to Jesus’ command to leave our offering gift. The person who has left their gift at the altar and has encountered a padded wall now knows that a wall exists around the other person. Behind the padded wall, there is therapeutic healing taking place. Whether or not the time is right to access the door in the wall is unknown to the offender. Yet both offended and offender is called to aim at reconciliation. Again, whether or not reconciliation is possible in this life is very complex (and beyond the scope of one blog to address). But if both the offended and offender believe that following Jesus’ teaching is possible, then they must be aimed at reconciliation. This is redemptive forgiveness: doors and windows are added and walls may even be removed over time. The removal of the wall does not mean that boundaries no longer exist, but that a relationship may be marked by such safety, security, and trust that marking the boundaries with walls is no longer necessary. Redemptive forgiveness aims at the removal of walls, though it may start by opening doors and establishing guidelines for coming through the walls. 


My first home left quite a bit to be desired—including central heat and about 200 square feet of exposed block in the basement. Given that I lived in Canada, building a wall to insulate the exposed block was one of my first projects. But I had never built a wall before. It remained daunting and mysterious to me—even with YouTube’s tutorials. Luckily, I had a willing and talented friend to help me frame and insulate a wall. The job was completed faster and better than it would have been on my own. 

I think that’s how the walls we’ve talked about above are to be built: with the help of a friend. Unlike physical walls, it is sometimes easier to construct emotional walls on our own. Building walls with a friend helps keep us accountable to crafting the walls not as weapons but as protections. Friends help us make sure that walls mark our boundaries and don’t unnecessarily expand them. Friends who help us build walls can be given permission to see that there is healing work happening behind them.  


1 Steven J Sandage and F. LeRon Shults, Faces of Forgiveness: Searching for Wholeness and Salvation; (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), especially Introduction and Section 1. While Sandage has deepened and modified some of the following, this thought is rooted in his taxonomy.

2 This is not to deny what peacemaking experts like Ken Sande might call “overlooking.” Healthy people can overlook an offense out of a sense of security and self. This ought not to be an ongoing action. Overlooking offenses is only possible by people with differentiated selves — people who have boundaries and know what they are. Overlooking the same offense either slips into a denial of the offense or is an indication that a person lacks a self and the ability to overlook an offense. In the latter case, they are not overlooking, but possibly being victimized or subjecting themselves to offense complicitly.

I owe part of this line of thinking to Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).


Carolyn Moore ~ Just How Angry Are You?

The Institute for Ethics at Duke University conducted an online survey of about 1,500 people as part of a project designed to measure the morality quotient of Americans. They asked people to rate how likely they’d be to do certain morally questionable things like, for instance, kicking a dog in the head. As it turns out (happily), seven of eight respondents would refuse to do that and in fact, would turn down any amount of money up to $1 million to kick Fido in the noggin.

However, half of the participants said they could be motivated to throw a rotten tomato at a politician they dislike. For free.

Would you be among them?

There is no denying it: we have a maddening political climate. We also have anger issues. Anger is not a secular issue; we who follow Jesus are not immune. Just check your Facebook page. In fact, more and more, anger is becoming part of our caricature. Angela, the token Christian on The Office is an angry, tight-lipped, buttoned-up woman. In most cartoons and commentaries, we’re known as the ones who sling condemnation.

So really … are we that angry?

(You’ve heard the old joke– right? — about the shipwreck survivor they discovered on an uncharted island. The ship that spotted him sent a rescue team to shore and found the man alone among three huts. They asked what the three huts were for, since there was no one else around. The survivor explained, “Well, I live in one and go to church in another.” “What about the third hut, then?” asked a rescue team member. “Oh, that,” growled the man. “That’s where I used to go to church.” It is funny only because it is familiar.)

Face it. Christians have something of a reputation and it is only getting worse. I suspect we’re operating out of fear. We’ve pitted our values against a permissive culture and it has left us feeling powerless. In the comparison we’re accused of being angry, condemnation-tossing haters. And to some extent, we deserve the criticism. We who follow Jesus too easily pander to the reputation of being known for what we’re against more than what we’re for.

Wouldn’t it be exciting for Christians to be known more for the infectiousness of their faith than the accuracy of their tomato-tossing?

George Barna is a researcher who does ethnographic research on churches, and one study he did showed that only 4% of adults make their decisions based on the Bible. In his book, Think Like Jesus, he says, “the primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus … We’re often more concerned with survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance.”

Hear that again: We are often more concerned about survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance.

“Survival amidst chaos” hits close to home, doesn’t it? If there has ever been a season of chaos in our country, this would be it. But I have to say — and I say this with great love and respect — I’m concerned for how Christians are responding to this season, for how we are talking in public and what it says about our faith. We are not thinking like Jesus. We have become so focused on what is in front of us that we’ve forgotten what is beyond the horizon.

We’ve engaged emotionally with difficult issues but have failed to speak with integrity, offering emotional responses that are more defensive than intelligent. Our go-to response is more fear than faith.

But you say, “A person can’t sit idly by and let the world roll over them.” Or more personally, “You don’t know my circumstance — how hard I’ve had it and how much it hurts. I can’t lose this war, too.”

To that, Jesus would say, “It doesn’t matter. The ground of our forgiveness is not our circumstances. The ground of our grace is not emotion.” Jesus told a whole story to make this very point (Matthew 18:23-35) saying that grace is a mark of the Kingdom.

Here’s the thing: If it all depends on circumstance, we are right to be desperate. Circumstances can seem hopeless but circumstances do not control my capacity for joy. We who know the end of the story should be responding to life and news and “rumors of wars” with a faith that proclaims something greater than our immediate circumstances. In other words, I don’t have to wait for folks to act right so I can have peace; I can live there now, by faith.

What I am responsible for is the character of my responses to life, and what those responses reveal about the character of Christ in me.

Brothers and sisters, we may be in a confusing season right now but we know how the story ends. We know what is beyond the horizon.

Let’s live and speak as if Jesus is who he says he is.

Jeff Rudy ~ Favor and Vengeance: Your Missing Piece

One of the activities my wife and I like to do from time to time is to put together puzzles. It can be a calming and centering exercise…unless…unless…you draw near to the end of making the edges or even close to completing the puzzle and discover there is a missing piece. You turn the house upside down (or at least I do) looking for it but can’t find it anywhere. Frustrating isn’t it?

One time we were putting together a Doc McStuffins puzzle with Julianne and discovered that the puzzle we were putting together had an extra piece and was an exact duplicate of one of the existing pieces. I couldn’t help but wonder…oh, no! Somebody purchased this same puzzle and is missing this very piece. We empathized deeply! Because there is not much like the frustration of not having the closure of completing the puzzle such that it looks like what the outside of the box pictures. I hate to put an incomplete picture in your mind, but I want you to keep that image of a puzzle with a missing piece there for a few moments…

Carrie and I recently disconnected our cable service and while a great liberating feeling came in not having to pay for it and we couldn’t keep up with the DVR anyway, we’ve found ourselves wrapped into the benefits of Amazon Prime, which enables us to catch up on some things. Like Downton Abbey – we’ve been binge-watching the series, now about six years behind the curve. The truth is that Carrie and I had sworn off dramas and tried to stick to sitcoms when I entered the ministry because we figured, “Hey, there’s drama enough in the church, right?” Alas, we’ve fallen back into the trap. Anyway, I’ve found it interesting to trace the development of several characters and there is one character in particular that has grabbed my attention – Mr. Bates, the valet to his lordship, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and the way Mr. Bates responds to the conniving ways of Thomas, who begins the series as a footman, jealous that Mr. Bates got the job of valet instead of him.

Mr. Bates, that I have seen to date, is plagued with a past of disappointment and crime, including theft, but has grown into an honorable and trustworthy gentleman. One day Bates caught Thomas stealing wine from the cellar and while he had the opportunity to do so, he did not report what he witnessed to the head butler. This is interesting as there had been quite a discrepancy between the records of how much wine they were supposed to have versus the actual inventory on hand. Thomas, in the meantime, found a way with a couple of accomplices to try to convince the head butler that it was Mr. Bates who was taking the wine and for a while it looked as though Mr. Bates was going to go down and be dismissed from Downton.

But the tables were turned when one of the accomplices came clean and told the truth that Thomas had told them to support his story against Mr. Bates without having witnessed anything. So Mr. Bates was proven innocent and the head butler gave him a chance to reveal anything he may have witnessed. Now here is where many of you, like me, who watch the show put yourself into the story and were yelling at Mr. Bates to turn Thomas in and reveal all…what more could be better than to exact vengeance on the one who intended him harm?

“Turn Thomas in! Get him out of there!” But what did Mr. Bates do? He remained silent. Argh! He had the chance right there! He could’ve brought closure! He could’ve completed the puzzle and revealed the truth! But he left the missing piece out.

What does Mr. Bates and an incomplete puzzle have to do with Jesus reading the Scripture and teaching in the synagogue?

Well there is something interesting that takes place. When Jesus completes the portion of Isaiah that he had chosen, Luke notes (4:20) that, “He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” What I was curious about as I was studying this passage was to ponder if there was a reason why Jesus quit reading at the portion where he stopped and then rolled up the scroll. So I went to where Jesus quoted and I want you to see what I saw, so let’s compare the two:

Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Isaiah 61:1-2 (NRSV):

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.

There were a couple of slight differences you might’ve picked up on – a topic to explore at another time, but I’m particularly interested in why Jesus stopped at “year of the Lord’s favor,” and did not continue on into “the day of vengeance…” After all, God’s vengeance is against God’s enemies, right? What would be wrong with that? Why wouldn’t Jesus go on and satisfy the vengeful longings of those who were looking for the overthrow of the world’s kingdom? It would be true! It wouldn’t be unjust!

He could’ve put that last piece in there, but he didn’t.

Consider this. I think Jesus chose deliberately to stop reading when he did because he came to teach and to live a gospel whose first word and last word – from beginning to end – is a word of love and grace, of good news to the poor and oppressed and of the favor of the Lord. That’s why it’s important that Luke notes the detail that Jesus “rolled up the scroll” before vengeance would have its say. Jesus was preaching a gospel of transformation where the people of God would lay down their desire for vengeance and cross over to love.

Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John’s UMC in Houston, tells the story of his crossing over to love. His daughter was harmed at the age of four, but he didn’t find out until she was 18. And when he found out, it challenged every aspect of his being to not just kill the guy that had hurt her. Here’s what he said:

I knew I was crossing over when I was in a place that I thought was Christianity, that place where everything is going really pretty good, and it doesn’t require any real effort to love. I knew I crossed over when I could love in spite of knowing that I have the capacity to hurt somebody that hurt my family. That’s when I knew. As a matter of fact, that’s when I told my congregation, ‘This week I became a Christian.’ That’s when I crossed over from knowing I had the capacity to do some damage and not do it…that was it.

Then Rudy went on to tell a test that he faced thereafter. He was driving and came upon a red light. And across the street right in front of his truck walked the guy who had harmed his daughter. And he said to himself,

Is this a blessing or a test? In those seconds, I was thinking ‘Man, I would really like to run over this cat.’ But he was talking to another guy who was crossing the street in front of me, though, and I’m thinking I really don’t want to run over the other guy, but really I don’t want to run over either one of them. So I let them both cross in front of my truck. And when they got to the other side, I called my daughter and said, ‘Guess who just walked in front of my truck?’ And she knew immediately. I said, ‘Guess what?’ She said, ‘Daddy, obviously he’s still walking.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘That’s good daddy, because I would have hated to have lost twice.’ I think that day I passed the test.

Did you hear that? “I knew I crossed over when I could love in spite of knowing that I have the capacity to hurt somebody that hurt me, my family.”

The opportunity to proclaim and exact vengeance was right there before him. But he didn’t take it. The opportunity to proclaim the day of vengeance was right there before Jesus too; he was given the scroll; he could have kept on, but he stopped, rolled up the scroll and handed it to the assistant.

Where do we fit? I think we’re like the assistant. And now the scroll, the puzzle is back in our hands, and here’s the challenge. What happens when the scroll is placed in our hands and all of a sudden the piece of the puzzle that was missing – vengeance – is uncovered and you can place it back in.

Will you? Or will you allow Jesus to set the parameters of the gospel? Will you allow yourself to be won over, to cross over to the gospel of love – knowing that that was and is the way of the Christ, who, anointed by the Spirit, disarmed the powers not by vengeance and might, but by suffering, humility, forgiveness and love?

We know what Christ did with the whole realm of nature at his disposal. He renounced the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejected the evil powers of this world…accept the freedom and power God gave him to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they presented themselves. (Just go up to the previous episode in Luke’s gospel for proof.) And when we survey the wondrous gospel of love, in the suffering of the Christ, how do we respond when the whole realm of the puzzle is at our disposal?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all…

You see if you can cross over to love, the puzzle changes its shape and so are we shaped, such that we reflect the pattern after which we are fashioned – Jesus Christ. Then we will truly be “Christians” – which means “little Christs.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Grace Upon Grace

Grace is not a one-time thing.  God doesn’t just see our sins, forgive us one time, and then choose to be done with us forever. No, God constantly gives us grace.

God gives us grace to forgive us, He gives us grace to empower us, He gives us grace to lead us.  For us, and for the world, grace is not a one-time thing.  It’s over and over and over again.  I am thankful that God is always lavishing us with grace and mercy.

That’s how it works between us and God.

But how should it work between us?  God always forgives us when we ask Him, but what about you and me? What are we to do when we keep messing up and falling short?  I mean, really, can’t they get it right?  How much grace do they get?  Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18: 21-22: “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.'”

Now, notice what Peter asks.  He says, what if another member of the church sins against me?  Two things pop out.  One is, “sins against me.”  That means does something to harm that relationship.  Something that’s not good, something harmful and destructive.

Something that may leave a mark.  Something that really may just hurt.

That’s tough to deal with.  Tough to work through.  Tough to process.  It’s not easy.

What else jumped out at me?  “Another member of the church.”  Someone that’s family.  As Christians, we are called to love. That’s one of our main commands and duties as believers, to love. We are called to love, because God is love. That’s our purpose and our mission.

Love the world.  Love each other. But especially love each other, because we are family.

Church, we’ve got to love each other.  If in your congregation you are always fussing among yourselves, then why would the world want to be part of you?  Sometimes the fights are over worship, or leadership, or a million different things.

Jesus tells us what to do: Love.  Forgive.  Show mercy. Be graceful.

Even when “they” don’t deserve it.  Because we don’t deserve it either.  That’s why it’s grace.  It’s never earned or deserved.  It’s always, always, always given and received.

Today, you and I have received grace from our loving God.  Today, may we show that grace to the world, and especially to those we do life with. Because loving each other may be one of our biggest witnesses to the world.

In a world that is angry and bitter and hurting, folks want to know that they are loved.  When we as the church live that out in our day to day lives, I truly believe that we can change the world.

Today, may we show grace!