Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15).

You're in the grocery store picking up a few things when someone accidentally bumps into you. They give a quick apology, and you shuffle on without giving it a second thought.

It's Friday evening and your husband walks in the door from long day, that just wrapped up a very long week, and he's, shall we say, a little snappy with you. But, he eventually apologizes and of course you forgive him. Life is beautiful in your household once again, and the Brady Bunch is left envious.

However, what happens if we turn the stakes up a little? What if you find out that the person you've considered to be one of your best friends had actually sold you out? I mean, how could they, right?! Friendship betrayal is a serious a kind of pain, but it happened between Jesus and Judas, didn’t it? Even then, had Judas repented, forgiveness would have been given. Don’t believe me? Tell me the difference between Judas and Peter.

But what if we made it even more personal? Maybe a little closer to home? What about that one person who needs forgiving, but the idea of doing so makes us all just a little uncomfortable? We know we can forgive others, but...

What about you forgiving you?

In the movie "Get Low", the character Felix Bush is a hermit who secludes himself in a self-made prison in the hills of Tennessee for something he decides is so horrible that he cannot come to forgive himself. Instead, he couldn't see the simple answer to God's forgiveness because he'd let his fallible, human emotions keep him from seeing it. Instead, he believed repentance had to come at a much steeper price.

I tell you this to ask you a question: Why is it so much easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves? We can forgive the person in the grocery store. We can forgive the grumpy spouse. We can even eventually forgive the backstabbing friend.

But why can't we give forgiveness to ourselves?

First, we must recognize that it is so much harder to forgive ourselves because we feel both the guilt and the hurt, whereas when someone else hurts us, all we feel is the hurt. This means we are struggling to overcome two negative emotions at once rather than just the one.

Secondly, sometimes, like Felix Bush, we don't feel like we're worthy of forgiveness. However tempting it is to hold to this belief, we must-and I emphasis must- get rid of this notion if we are to survive both emotionally, and spiritually. After all, if God, who is far more holy and righteous than we are, can forgive us then why can't we forgive ourselves? Are we to hold ourselves to a higher standard of righteousness than He who created the very concept of righteousness? I don't know any rational person who would admit to this with their mouth, but their actions may say otherwise. And which one speaks louder, actions or words?

Third, we must base our faith in the cleansing power of Christ's blood. To believe that self-forgiveness is an impossibility in any circumstance is a dangerous belief, and is as corrosive as acid. It eats away at our trust and faith in God until one day there is nothing left to believe in. If not for the redemptive power of Christ's forgiveness, then we have no relationship with the Father at all. After all, if we say that we cannot be forgiven of a specific sin then we diminish the blood of Christ, which is always able to make us clean again. We are commanded to forgive men of their trespasses, and nowhere in that Matthew 6:15 do I read an exception to the rule saying that you don't have to forgive yourself.

After all, isn't forgiveness forgiveness, regardless of the receiver? It matters from whom--but not to whom—including yourself. It ultimately comes down to your relationship with the Father, and a trust in His perfect plan. Do you forget the incident that you did that brought the guilt and hurt? Not even in a perfect world. You remember the lesson you learned during your repentance, but do you dwell on it and continue to beat yourself up daily? Satan would love for you to conform to the world's way of handling failures by dwelling on the issue for the rest of your life. But we are called not to be conformed, but rather to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

And a transformation, in this case, means forgiveness. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is Christianity a Violent Religion?

Many of its critics would like you to believe that Christianity is a violent religion, one responsible for millions upon millions of deaths and countless wars throughout its history. I have heard it said that the majority of all wars fought were religious in nature. Its attackers want you to believe that Christianity forces itself upon individuals and entire nations. This is what they want you to believe, however, to the reasonable person, the facts will prove them wrong. Let's examine a few facts regarding Christianity in regards to violence.

1. Jesus Never Advocated Violence Toward Those Who Would Not Convert to Christianity.

It is important to note the difference in what Jesus actually commanded his disciples to do. In Mark 16:15 Jesus said, "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" The command here was to go out and preach to every nation. He did not advocate any act of violence toward anyone who would not convert. However, He did give instructions to His followers regarding what they should do if someone refused to convert. He told them in Luke 9:5, "And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them." So what did Jesus mean when He said this? In modern terms we would say it something like, 'Completely forget them. Leave them to their decision, and and the fate they've chosen.' This certainly doesn't make Jesus an advocate for violence against those who will not convert. In fact, it serves as very difficult testimony against those who would like you to believe that Christianity is a religion based in violence.

There is an old saying that goes something to the effect of, "No one ever truly converts through the barrel of a gun". Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, knew this to be true and guided His disciples based on this principle.

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and questioned regarding the charges against Him, Pilate asked Him if He was in fact the king of the Jews. Jesus' response again serves as testimony against the charge of Christianity and violence being married. John 18:36 says, "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."  Had Jesus set up an Earthly kingdom, then would His followers (Christians) raise their swords to keep Him from being delivered. However, we are not concerned with the ways of the world, we strive for a higher purpose; to live forever with God in heaven. This is where Jesus' eternal kingdom is set up.

2. We Must Make a Distinction Between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ was crucified on the cross, one of His last statements was recorded in John 19:30, "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." The important question here is, what exactly is the 'it' Jesus is referring to as being finished? What exactly is finished?

When Jesus made this statement He is referring to the Old Law, or the Old Testament way of doing things. The reason we have a New Testament in the Bible is because it is a New Law. To better illustrate this point, let me ask you a question. When does a last will and testament of someone go into effect? After their death, right? This is the case with Jesus' will, the New Testament. Just as someone else's last will and testament is a binding legal document, so is the New Testament for Christ. It is separate and apart from the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament law, required obedience was necessary to every point of the law, and the punishment of disobedience was certain death. This is illustrated by the fate of Uzzah, who steadied the Ark of the Covenant from falling. Regardless of his intentions, this was unacceptable by Gods standards. 2 Samuel 6:7 says, "And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God." Why would God strike Uzzah dead for a seemingly good act? Because God gave specific instructions regarding who and when someone could touch the Ark of the Covenant. Uzzah was not that person, and he touched it at the wrong time. Obedience to God was very specific, and the price for disobedience was death.

This concept is better illustrated by the New Testament authors themselves. The author of Romans says in Romans 8:1,2 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." The days of the law of sin and death (i.e., The Old Testament) have now passed.

Regarding the concept of Christians still holding to the Old Law, James 2:10 says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all". In other words, if you keep one part of the law, you must keep the whole law. If you do not, then you are guilty of offending the whole law. This is impossible considering the old laws' purpose was to prepare the people for Jesus and His New Law.

3. It Is the Christians Who Have Suffered Persecution and Violence for Their Beliefs.

A study of the New Testament and the fate of its authors will clearly show that the early Christian church was persecuted on several fronts, along with its members. During the beginning chapters of the Book of Acts, this is outlined very clearly with the arrest and persecution of the apostles, and disciples of Christ. Within the first 6 chapters of the Book of Acts, Christians were arrested multiple times, thrown in jail for preaching the name of Jesus, and culminating in the stoning to death of the disciple Stephen (Acts 7:59,60).

Stephen was not the only member of the church to suffer persecution. According to many commentaries, the Apostle Paul spent approximately 5 1/2 to 6 years of his ministry in one form of prison or another. These include a Roman jail, Philippian jail with Silas, two years in a prison cell in Caesarea, and finally for a third time he is imprisoned by the Romans, this time culminating in his execution for preaching Jesus.

Through tradition, we know of many other Apostle's fate. Notice the information borrowed from Agard's Bible Timeline regarding the fate of the other apostles:

Simon surnamed Peter: died 33-34 years after the death of Christ.  According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary there is "satisfactory evidence that he and Paul were the founders of the church at Rome, and died in that city. The time and manner of the apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. According to the early writers, he died at or about the same time with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution, A.D. 67,68. All agree that he was crucified. Origen says that Peter felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was therefore, at his own request, crucified with his head downward." 
James the son of Zebedee:  He was put to death by Herod Agrippa I  shortly before the day of the Passover, in the year 44 or about 11 years after the death of Christ.  From Acts 12: 1-2. 
John: No death date given by early writers.  Death date is by conjecture only and is variously assigned as being between 89 AD to 120 AD
Andrew:  No accurate death date given. A variety of traditions say he preached in Scythia, in Greece, in Asia Minor and Thrace.  He is reported to have been crucified at Patrae in Achaia. 
Philip:  Again, the Bible does not say when he died nor do we have accurate information.  According to tradition he preached in Phrygia, and died at Hierapolis. 
Bartholomew: There is no information concerning his death, not even by tradition
Matthew: He must have lived many years as an apostle, since he was the author of the Gospel of Matthew which was written at least twenty years after the death of Christ. There is reason to believe that he stayed for fifteen years at Jerusalem, after which he went as missionary to the Persians, Parthians and Medes. There is a legend that he died a martyr in Ethiopia
Thomas: The earlier traditions, as believed in the fourth century, say he preached in Parthia or Persia, and was finally buried at Edessa. The later traditions carry him farther east.   His martyrdom whether in Persia or India, is said to have been by a lance, and is commemorated by the Latin Church on December 21 the Greek Church on October 6, and by the Indians on July 1. 
James Alpheus: We know he lived at least five years after the death of Christ because of mentions in the Bible.  According to tradition, James son of Alpheus was thrown down from the temple by the scribes and Pharisees; he was then stoned, and his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. 
Simon the Canaanite: No information either in the Bible or by tradition.
Jude (Thaddeus): according to tradition Jude taught in Armenia, Syria and Persia where he was martyred.  Tradition tells us he was buried in Kara Kalisa in what is now Iran.
Judas Iscariot: Shortly after the death of Christ Judas killed himself. According to the Bible he hanged himself, (Matthew 27:5) at Aceldama, on the southern slope of the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, and in the act he fell down a precipice and was dashed into pieces.

I would also like to note that by todays standards, the church is still persecuted. Take for example the way Christians are treated in mainly Muslim countries. By most accounts, they are outlaws, forced to worship in secret under fear of death. This is clearly seen in countries such as Iran. Also notice the way other religions are treated in "Christian" countries. There are no courts set up to persecute them, nor are there followers of other religions being put to death for their beliefs. Though you will find them in other countries, no "Christian" nation has such, because it is against our belief system.

4. It Is Incorrect to Say That a Majority of Wars Are Fought Over Religion-Let Alone Christianity.

This claim is easily refuted by simply examining the evidence. The book, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified as a religious conflict. So, what atheists have considered to be "most" really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting, however, that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare, and well over 600 years after the birth of Christianity!

The evidence is overwhelming to show that Christianity is not a violent religion. Anyone who would like to convince you otherwise is either ignorant of the facts, or is maliciously trying to spread misinformation. Both of which is unacceptable. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't Smother Yourself!

"For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[a]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them."
 Psalms 139:13-16

God did not create you to live a life of mediocrity. In fact, John 10:10 says God wants you to have an abundant life. He gave you a personality and knew it intimately before you were even born. God wants to see you use your personality, talent, and skills in a combined effort that utilizes all three to shine as an example of righteousness to those around you. After all, when we're standing at the judgement day (and there will be one), how much better would it be to be able to do so fully knowing you did His will to the best of your abilities? How great would it feel to be able to stand on that day of judgment and say you put everything God gave you on the table?

God put value into your life for a purpose, and no one but you can keep it from being used. The value God put in you can never diminish, it can only be stifled and smothered by you.

Satan wants you to wallow in misery with him, but God has other plans. 

The decision is yours.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are You a Paperclip?

When was the last time you thought about what a paperclip really does? Think about it for just a moment. Each day in millions of offices all across the world it performs a very important function with very little fanfare (short of maybe this post). Each day, through thick and thin, it holds several independant pieces of paper together. I know, it sounds silly talking about it, doesn't it? But think about how frustrating it would be if we didn't have them! I know it's stating the obvious, but each individual piece of paper holds a key piece of the entire story. Whether the story is a work document for an important client, a book manuscript you've poured yourself into, or a sales contract that needs to be signed by close of business today, if one sheet of paper goes missing we're in big trouble.

The congregation you attend (or should be attending) is like the manuscript, and all the individual members together make up the whole story. But we still need members who are willing to step up and say, "I can be a paperclip."

But be warned, the job of a paperclip isn't an easy one. It becomes your responsibility to try to keep the peace among the pieces of paper. It's your responsibility to keep papers from flying away in the winds that come along. To be certain, this job is not for the intolerant or weak.

A paperclip must not pass rash or unfair judgment. It's not their job to decide which sheet of paper has the best personality, and is therefore allowed to stay in the story. Their personality may be just what the story needed. My point isn't that we should be tolerant of any and all that walk through the door, but rather that we shouldn't create divisions where God, who is the Editor, doesn't. That's not the job of a paperclip.

So the question stands? Are you a paperclip? If not, can you be? Will you be?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Power of a Selfless Prayer

It's not that I never want to pray for myself, because I do. I have to! But I have to remember that I can't pray for myself only. I don't ever want to get so wrapped up in discussing myself with God that I lose sight of you. God sent His only begotten son in order to redeem you, so the least I can do is remember to pray for you! You see, in order to look at myself, I have to take my eyes off of you, and I know that you need me to pray for you. And the truth is, I need you to pray for me, too. We've got to be careful not to lose sight of one another's needs during our conversations with God.

This was Peter's problem when crossing the water to Jesus. His mind lost focus of Christ, and instead, he turned inward, focusing on the dangers all around him. Did you get that? That were all around him! Jesus was doing the very same thing Peter was doing, yet Peter began to sink when his mind wandered into worrying about himself. Rather than staying focused on Christ, Peter focused on Peter. If Peter would have focused on Christ, would he have still begun to sink? Of course not! Because rather than a selfish worry, he would have continued to trust in Jesus and His power to save him.

You see, if you're busy asking God to help you, then by necessity you have to stop focusing on those in need around you- even if it's just for a moment. And we know that disasterous things can happen in only moments. The average tornado is on the ground for less than 10 minutes. Yet, when they happen they are utterly devastating.

Another reason I don't want to lose sight of you during my prayer time with God is that if I'm praying for me while you're also praying for me, then who is praying for you? It leaves a void.

God would much rather hear a prayer on behalf of someone else rather than a prayer all about me. That's because a prayer for someone else comes from such an unselfish place, and after all, it was selflessness that sent Jesus to die for us in the first place.

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

The Art of Self-Forgiveness But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:...