Tag Archives: forgiveness

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness is sometimes confused with reconciliation. When I forgive someone then that means I must also be reconciled with that person. And there is truth in that statement, but perhaps not the truth I first envisioned.

Reconciliation is a word rooted in the Bible. Reconciliation means to cease the hostility and animosity between two people or parties. Paul uses it particularly to describe how Jesus has restored the broken relationship between God and humanity through his death on the cross. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Jesus also used the term to describe how as Christians we are to be reconciled one to another whenever we have grievances or conflict with one another. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:22-23).

Now the problem for me with reconciliation is that I have romanticized it and added an additional layer. Whereas the Bible speaks of ending the conflict and restoring clear, healthy relationship boundaries, I added a new layer. I added the layer of becoming bosom buddies that agree on all things. I romanticized it into a tight bond of friendship created or renewed. I thought in black and white categories, “you are either enemies or friends.” Reconciliation might mean friendship or it might mean going separate, peaceful ways.

add_toon_infoAn example of this is seen in Genesis 13. Abraham and his nephew Lot have traveled together to Bethel and both have extensive flocks and herds. Conflict had arisen between the herders of Abraham’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock. Abraham proposed a reconciliation.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9).

Separation keeps the peace for Abraham and Lot.

Paul and Barnabas separated during their second missionary journey when they disagreed on whether to restore John Mark as one of their traveling companions (Acts 15:36-41). Though the text does not say they are reconciled, neither does it say that they remained hostile towards one another. God’s ministry continued even as they separated.

Reconciliation in a relationship does not always mean a new friendship restored. It may mean that the hostility ceases between the two parties as they establish healthy new boundaries of civility and respect.

How do you understand reconciliation?

Lord Jesus, guide me as an ambassador of reconciliation.

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The Forgiveness Blessing

In my last post, The Forgiveness Challenge, I wrote about the misunderstandings regarding our ability to forgive others. Forgiveness is not condoning what someone has done to us. In fact part of forgiveness is to acknowledge how I have been hurt by the actions of another.

Forgiveness does not mean that trust, love or friendship will automatically be restored. I can forgive someone and still avoid situations where the person who harmed me might repeat the action. An example is a wife whose husband is abusive to her and her children. She can for forgive his actions, but needs to physically remove herself from the relationship to avoid future abuse.

God's Hand of Blessing

God’s Hand of Blessing

So then, what is forgiveness and its blessing?

The blessing is that the one forgiving is able to let go of the heavy burden of resentment, anger and desire for retribution. She releases the anger and resentment toward the person who wronged her  so that she can continue a vibrant life of faith and love. Forgiveness frees the person who forgives, regardless of what happens to the person forgiven.

The opposite of forgiveness is to bear a grudge, to carry an ongoing memory of the hurt/wrong and to seek some form of retribution. “I have been hurt and I want someone to pay for it!”  The grudge may come from a tragic one time incident (like a horrible automobile accident) or from countless encounters (such as a co-worker who is constantly using verbal put-downs). The grudge becomes a burden that weighs on our hearts and minds. It grows as we feed it more resentments and negative thoughts and in time the grudge can absorb our whole life. What a blessing to lay that burden down.

heavy-burdenThe best way to lay that burden down is a three-fold path.

First, recognize that the resentment and anger has become a toxic burden that is destroying your life.

Second, pray that God will give you the ability to forgive and give up the burden. Jesus promised, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Third, pray for the one who hurt you and for God’s power and love to surround them. Visualize them as a child of God, broken and flawed, but still loved. Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt 5:44).

This is a process that takes time. Rarely is it one fervent prayer and all resentment is gone. Rather forgiveness is like a muscle that needs to be activated and exercised regularly. No wonder Jesus place it in the center of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive the sins of others” (Luke 11:4).

When and how has forgiveness been a blessing to you?

Lord Jesus, continually teach us to forgive one another.

The Forgiveness Challenge

Earlier this spring I wrote on the difficulty one can face in forgiving others. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive the sins of others. Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18: 23-35 sharply contrast the forgiving heart of a king (God) and the unforgiving servant (us?).

forgiveness log 2Prior to the parable Peter asked Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter probably thought he was being generous with offering seven times. Jesus blows Peter’s generosity out of the water when he responds, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Forgiveness is not a transaction that one tracks but a lifestyle to embrace.

Still there is much misunderstanding around the concept of forgiveness. I want to highlight three of them.

First, forgiveness does not condone a wrong action as being “okay” or good. If a co-worker steals your idea and takes credit for it, that action is wrong. Forgiving the person does not mean that what the person did is now okay. In fact, it may be necessary to confront the person and tell him or her that you were hurt by the behavior and that your trust is broken. To forgive such an act means that you will not continue to hold a grudge or resentment towards them.

Second, forgiveness does not mean that you will automatically trust the person again. If a coworker has a history of stealing ideas means that you will probably not be sharing new creative ideas with them, even if you forgive them. This is particularly true in family settings where a spouse has been abusive (emotionally, verbally or physically). You may forgive your spouse, but you may also need to separate from your spouse if the behavior has not changed.

Third, forgiveness often requires the spirit of courageous love. I live in Minnesota where we promote a culture of “being nice.” “Minnesota Nice” has many advantages ( who wants to be cooped up over a long winter with argumentative, disrespectful coworkers or family members). However Minnesota Nice can often lead to situations where people are smiling on the outside, but holding all kinds of grudges and resentments on the inside. They often discuss these resentments with everyone but the offending party. Healthy Christians will not let the resentment build and build, but rather acknowledge their internal conflict and confront the issue and/or person as needed.

Such confrontations can be done in love and mercy. The resurrected Jesus confronted Peter after his three denials when they met on the beach in John 21. I remember when a good friend confronted me over some selfish behavior that I once exhibited on a road trip. He made sure to do it in private and to give me space and time to respond.

In my next post I will explore the blessings of forgiveness.

How has forgiveness challenged or changed your life?

Lord Jesus, teach me to forgive as you forgive.

Forgiveness Can Be Tough

forgiveness log 2

Forgiveness can be tough. Even though we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” and know that Christ forgives us, we can often struggle to forgive those who wrong us.

I was in college, near the end of my freshman year. A friend and I applied to be resident assistants together in the freshman dorm. We were interviewed for the position by some upper classmates. My friend and I thought the interview had gone well. We both had good references as compassionate, helpful students and since there were only a few applicants, we thought we would both be chosen.

A few days later, I discovered that I had been rejected.

The reason given was that I was too vocal about my Christian faith. The student leaders thought I would be constantly “evangelizing” the freshman on my floor, even though this behavior had not been discussed in the interview. I felt that I had been unfairly rejected and was both disappointed and angry.

I wrestled with how to be forgiving towards the student leaders. I believed they had jumped to a conclusion without ever asking the question. I had helped start a Christian fellowship on the campus where none had existed before, but I was not some “outspoken” evangelist.  In fact, I was often too quiet about my faith in public settings. After the rejection, I wrestled with my resentment towards my fellow students and whether I could forgive them.

Fortunately this wrestling match ended quickly. The Dean of Students (who had written one of my recommendations) heard about this unfair decision and reversed it. I was thankful for his intervention and had a good year as a resident assistant. Still I wonder what I would have done if the Dean had not intervened. How long would I have carried resentments?

Jesus carried no such resentments.  Even as he was nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Have you ever struggled with forgiving someone?

Lord Jesus, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Baptism ABC: C is for Cleansing

Baptism cleanses us from sin. The Greek word for baptism means “washed or cleansed.” The promise of baptism is that all my sins are washed away by God.

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life! (Titus 3:4-6, The Message)

And with infant baptism (like my grandson Jack’s baptism) that includes Original Sin.

The concept of Original Sin has been a troubling one for me. How can such an innocent baby be labeled as a sinner? It troubled me until I looked at this picture from Jack’s baptism.Jack Baptism Fam
Jack was born into a sinful world where sin has entrapped and ensnare him. Jack lives in a family system of sin. (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.) I will not speak for my daughter-in-law Maggie’s family, but I know my own family is tainted and trapped by sin. And the most notable offender being the grandpa who holds baby Jack. Our sin, our brokenness, our wayward fickle hearts will hurt and pull Jack away from God. Or to be perfectly honest, my sin, my brokenness, my wayward fickle heart will hurt and pull Jack away from God. And for that I need God’s grace and forgiveness as much as Jack.

As Frederick Buechner writes,

Original Sin means we all originate out of a sinful world, which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that center everything that seems to impede its freewheeling. More even than hunger, poverty or disease, it what Jesus said he came to save the world from. (Beyond Words, p. 369)

Jack’s baptism was a powerful reminder to me to once again claim the promise of my own baptism, to be washed clean of my sinful inclination to make it all about me. To remember that God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in and saved me. I need to walk “wet and clean,” especially when I am entrusted to love and hold Jack.

The great and glorious news is that Jesus Christ has cleansed Jack and me and given us newness of life.

Next post: D is for dying.

Lord Jesus, cleanse my heart again.

Authority to Forgive

Though most of us spent decades in classrooms, rarely do we remember a specific class. Each hour of instruction tends to blend with the others to build a cumulative base of knowledge. Occasionally one hour of instruction will stand out among all the others. One such hour for me was my first year at Luther Seminary in 1977. The class was being taught by Dr. Warren Quanbeck, a renown Lutheran theologian.

One monring he was leading us through a story in the Gospel of Mark, the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-13). He pointed out the controversy surrounding Jesus’ announcement that the man’s sins were forgiven. The religious scribes thought it was blasphemy for Jesus to claim such authority. Then Dr. Quanbeck asked a question that rocked my understanding of Jesus and forgiveness.

“If Jesus died in order to forgive us our sin, how could he forgive the sins of the man prior to his crucifixion?”

Like many Christians, I had grown up with a rather simplistic idea that Jesus “paid” the penalty for my sins by being a sacrifice to the righteousness of God. Often this line of reasoning turns God into a “mean vindictive judge” who demands the death of his only son. Dr.Quanbeck challenged that understanding by pointing out that Jesus was forgiving sin prior to his death just as God had been doing in the Old Testament. God’s business is forgiveness.

What put Jesus on the cross was the human inability to accept such gracious mercy and love. Throughout the Gospel of Mark we witness this tension with the religious official over Jesus’ authority. Ultimately they crucify Jesus precisely because he claimed the divine power to forgive sins. It was humanity’s ultimate rejection of God’s grace. But God would not be denied. To demonstrate Jesus’ authority, God raised him from the dead and turn the crucifixion into the very path to eternal life.

Dr. Quanbeck died less than two years after that class. But his instruction guided me into a deeper understanding of God’s grace and mercy. Thanks be to God.

Do you remember a class, teacher, or moment that rocked your understanding of God?

Lord Jesus, thank you for being so gracious towards me.

Holy Week Story – Tuesday

Continued Reflections on the Holy Week Story

Readings for today: Matthew 26:17-46

And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me. Matt 26:21

And he gave (the cup) to them saying, “Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matt 26:27-28

What a sharp contrast of emotions in today’s text!  We are again reminded that one of Jesus’ own disciples will betray him.   Jesus, who loved each disciple deeply, was wounded by Judas’ act.  Judas was not an outside official who simply wanted to keep the status quo.  Judas was a friend, who had seen, heard, and experienced Jesus’ ministry of healing and hope.  Scholars speculate what motivated Judas to do this.   Was it greed?  Or disillusionment that Jesus was not the Messiah Judas wanted?

I think the motivation is left unclear so that we can have identification with Judas.  At some time each of us has betrayed God or God’s children either in thought, word or deed.  We profess that we love Jesus with our lips, but our actions towards his children betray our fickle hearts.  We betray Jesus, when we do not love our neighbor as ourselves.

Yet on that night of betrayal, Jesus gave us the gracious gift of communion, the promise of forgiveness.  In Luke’s gospel, it is clear that Judas was still present when the cup of the new covenant was passed among the disciples.  God’s forgiveness was offered to Judas, even as he prepared to turn Jesus over to the high priest.   God’s forgiveness knows no boundaries, and here is a clear example of his gracious, forgiving love.  No matter who we are or what we have done, the promise of God’s forgiveness is declared for us.  We are forgiven people.    

When have you seen or visited someone who needed a tangible expression of God’s love?  How can you help that person realize how precious they are to God?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of your own body and blood.  Let that gift strengthen me in the knowledge that you love me more than anything.  Amen