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Archive for Forgiveness


Forgiving Versus Excusing

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This was the August 29 daily reading from A Year With C.S. Lewis. It was originally published in his book The Weight of Glory.

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch my self very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins turns out to be nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven.

But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.

What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some extenuating circumstances. We are so very anxious to point those out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”

Categories : Forgiveness
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The Art of Forgiving

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The Art of Forgiving was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend who highly recommended it for its sensible practicality and common sense. Its brief, a mere 178 pages long, but contains helpful counsel to those who struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps the most helpful element of the book is Smedes’ explanation of what forgiveness is not. This would suggest that one of the primary obstacles we have to forgiving those who have wounded us is the false expectation of what forgiving looks like, how it is done, and the aftermath that follows. If you are such a person, I would recommend this simple book. As a way of piquing your interest, I have added below some of the better quotes listed in the book’s postscript.

“The most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past it cannot change.”

“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.”

“The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who does it.”

“Forgiving happens in three stages: We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us, we surrender our right to get even, and we wish that person well.”

“We forgive people only for what they do, never for what they are.”

“We forgive people only for wounding and wronging us; we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for.”

“We cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.”

“Forgiving does not require us to reunite with the person who broke our trust.”

“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”

“Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain but to heal pain.”

“Forgiving is best done when it is done intolerantly.”

“Forgiving is the only way to be fair to ourselves.”

“Forgivers are not doormats; to forgive a person is not a signal that we are willing to put up with what he does.”

“We do not excuse the person we forgive; we blame the person we forgive.”

“Forgiving is essential; talking about it is optional.”

“When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.”

“When we forgive we walk in stride with the forgiving God.”

Categories : Books, Forgiveness
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The God of Another Chance:: 2

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After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17, NLT)

Following breakfast on the beach, Jesus pulled Peter aside for a private conversation. During that exchange, Jesus asked Peter three direct questions. “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

…These boats and nets?
…These other disciples?
…More than these disciples love me?

Peter is understandably troubled that the Lord asked him the same basic question three times. I’m sure that the three questions would have pricked Peter’s conscience because that’s how many times he had denied Christ. All he could muster was, “Lord, you know…”

After Peter got the point, Jesus gave Peter a quick glance into his future. “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” So the rumor spread among the community of believersg that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:18-22, NLT)

In so many words Jesus told Peter two important things. First, Jesus is basically challenging Peter by saying, “Follow me…this time follow through.” Second, “Follow me, as though you’re the only one.” These are important things that Peter needed to hear and they’re not bad things for us to remember when we come to the realization that we need to begin again. Tomorrow I’ll finish this series with three take-aways that will guide us when we need another chance.

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Yesterday I posted the first three steps Joseph modeled in restoring a broken relationship. They were and are to:
• Create privacy
• Make the goal of all confrontation reconciliation
• Stay focused on the big picture

Today I want to follow up with the final three steps from Genesis 45:1-15. Step four is to seek restoration (Genesis 45:9). Reconciliation is the work of righting the relationship. Restoration seeks to bring the relationship back together and in working order. Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the heart is right, the feet are swift.” Throughout this passage you can sense Joseph’s urgency. He wasn’t looking to simply appease his conscience. He wanted to have his family in close proximity so they could be a family again. Which leads me to an important question: Can we really say “I forgive you” and “I never want to see you again” in the same breath?

Preparing and teaching this passage last weekend gave me the opportunity to reflect on some common wrong approaches to restoration. Allow me a moment to share them with you and see if you can see yourself in any of them.

The first is “I will forgive but I will never forget!” This is conditional forgiveness that really isn’t forgiveness at all. When I moved to Texas many years ago I quickly learned an adage that you may be familiar with. It said, “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me for giving you the second chance.” Forgiveness is more than saying words. Forgiveness reorders the offense, choosing to consider it no longer and refusing to hold the offender captive to their error.

The second wrong approach says, “I will forgive and I will do my best to forget.” As though it is possible, this person forgives and then suppresses the offense, living in denial. Generous doses of shopping, narcotics, alcohol, or food will aid the denial process as the person stuffs it deeper and deeper. Acting like nothing ever happened in some ways is the opposite end of the spectrum of refusing to forget.

The third wrong attempt is, “I’ll just let it go, after all, time heals all wounds.” Really? Break a #2 school pencil into two pieces and set a timer. How long will it take for the pencil to heal itself? Impossible, you say? How is that any different than the offense your carrying in your life? Time may dull the senses, but time will never heal a wound properly.

I think the realistic approach is to say, “I will forgive, knowing that I will never forget, but I will allow God to heal that wound. It will leave a scar, but every scar is a reminder of a wound that has healed.” When we can get to that level of thinking, we’re on our way to restoration.

Step five is to speak a word of blessing (Genesis 45:10-13, 18-20). Joseph wanted his family to be close to him in Egypt and offered them the best that the land had to offer. I think one of the clearest indicators that we have forgiven is that we genuinely want the best for the person who has offended us. We want them to be close, and we wish nothing but blessings on their life.

The final step is to enjoy the relationship (Genesis 45:14-15). The story concludes by telling us that Joseph and his brothers talked freely, maybe for the very first time. It’s tragic that it took nearly their entire adulthood to come to the point that they could deal with the past and enjoy what was intended from the beginning.

So there you have it. Six steps modeled by Joseph on how to restore a broken relationship. But that leaves us with one final question. Why is God so insistent that we forgive one another? I think the reason is simply this: God wants you and me to be free. When we don’t walk through the steps of reconciliation and carry those offenses, we carry a tremendous weight. God insists that we forgive so we can be free.

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Genesis 45 gives us a text book model for how to restore a broken relationship. These principles were true then, were later affirmed by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and are still effective today.

First, Joseph created privacy (Genesis 45:1-4). After he cleared the room of his attendants, Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers. I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in restoring broken relationships is missing this vital step. Jesus affirmed this step in the counsel he gave his disciples in Matthew 18:15-19. Many situations are unnecessarily escalated because we miss this vital piece of biblical counsel. As a rule of thumb, the circle of conversation should never be greater than the circle of the offense.

Step two is to make the goal reconciliation (Genesis 45:5). If you read this verse aloud, you can hear the tone and the spirit of Joseph’s words. He used words of acceptance and understanding versus words of manipulation and guilt. The brothers were at his absolute mercy, yet his goal was not revenge. His goal was reconciliation. He spoke with words and a spirit of forgiveness before these brothers even had a chance to respond.

There are a couple of things that are important to share at this point. So allow me to pull over to a parking space for a moment. First of all, we have to remember that forgiveness is an act of the will.
It’s a choice. Forgiveness in its purest form is releasing someone from a debt to consider the matter no longer. If you wait for the “feelings of forgiveness ” to wash over you, you’ll waffle back and forth. It is a decision. In God’s economy, feelings follow choices.

The second thing I want to suggest while the meter is running is that the purpose of confrontation must be redemptive in its purpose. If your goal is not redemptive and you are not seeking reconciliation, you are not ready. You’re merely looking for revenge. Don’t use your wound as a weapon. That’s not going to be helpful.

Step three is to remain focused on the big picture (Genesis 45:6-8).
Look at how Joseph has been able to see God at work in this process:
• 45:5 God sent me…
• 45:7 God sent me…
• 45:8 Not you, but God…
• 45:9 God has made me…
• 50:20 God intended for good…
Joseph got a raw deal from his family. There’s no question about that. But one of the things that made him who he was is that he never lost sight of God during his years of adversity! Remember, its not what happens to me that matters, its what happens in me that counts!

Create privacy. Make the goal reconciliation. Stay focused on the big picture. Those are the first three steps. Tomorrow I’ll finish up this week’s series with the final three steps on how to restore a broken relationship.

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Conventional wisdom said it couldn’t be done, until Roger Bannister of England did it. Bannister was the very first person to run the mile in a time under 4 minutes. In the first 12 weeks after he did accomplished this milestone, 37 others did it. In the first 12 months after he did it, over 300 did it. From a human perspective, Joseph’s family was broken beyond repair. The relational problems they had experienced for the past 25 years have made this situation challenging beyond belief. But what we call impossible is always possible with God!

Jacob’s sons went to Egypt the second time to buy food. In their possession they carried double the money, gifts from Jacob, and most importantly, Joseph’s brother Benjamin. At this point we see the fulfillment of Joseph’s first dream as the 11 brothers bow down before Joseph. Simeon was released from prison and returned. The sight of Benjamin was overwhelming to Joseph. He excused himself to pull himself together. To their utter amazement, a meal was prepared and the brothers were seated according to their ages from the oldest to youngest. Benjamin was served a portion of food five times greater than the rest. Why? Perhaps Joseph was looking for change. Would they show jealousy when Benjamin was given preferential treatment?

After the meal Joseph’s brothers prepared to return to Canaan. Joseph instructed that Benjamin’s money and personal silver cup be stowed in the saddle bag. Once they were on the road, Joseph ordered a squadron of soldiers to pursue them. With boldness and confidence the brothers denied any wrongdoing and committed that if any of the “stolen” possessions be found among them, the thief be put to death and the rest return as slaves for life. Imagine how they must have felt when the cup was found in Ben’s bag! Once again, they returned to Egypt to stand before Joseph. Judah made good on his pledge to his father. He offered his own life in exchange for the life of Benjamin. At that precise moment, they were ready for the truth and what Joseph was about to disclose.

This week I want to post some thoughts that I shared last weekend about how to restore broken relationships. Stay tuned!

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Joseph’s family has been through the wringer. Little do they know what is yet to be unveiled! This week I’ve been posting principles for turning the corner from regret to resolution. To date my observations from Genesis and the story of Joseph include remembering that God is always at work, even in undetectable ways; the importance of facing reality (not unlike Jim Collins’ confront the brutal facts); and remembering that God is for (and with) His children.

The fourth element is to Accept Responsibility (Genesis 42:37-43:10). Aware that they cannot return to Egypt without Benjamin, Reuben made a generous offer. He told Jacob that he would be responsible for Benjamin and that if anything happened to him he could avenge the loss by taking the lives of his two sons. Jacob immediately refused this offer, primarily, I think, because Reuben had slept with his father’s wife Bilhah back in an earlier chapter. “I don’t trust you.”

As the clock ticks the food supplies diminish and the children get hungrier. It is at that point that Judah stepped up to the plate. Judah told Jacob that he would personally accept responsibility for his brother’s welfare. Period. Judah, you may recall, was the one who had the bright idea to sell Joseph to the slave traders to begin with. In short, Judah accepted responsibility for his action. It’s amazing what can happen when we are willing to accept responsibility for what we’ve done. Jacob permitted Benjamin to go.

The final piece to the puzzle is evidenced in Jacob resting in the strength of his God (Genesis 43:11-15). Jacob commended his sons, including Benjamin, to “El-Shaddai,” the mighty God. He finally came full circle and chose to place his trust in God. Martin Luther once wrote, “I know not the way he leads me, but well I know my guide.” Put another way, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

Have you noticed what is happening? The conversation has become elevated. This family is now thinking about God, looking to God, and talking about God. Sometimes the most important step we can take is not a step forward, it’s a step upward. Elevating the conversation from the physical, temporal plane to a spiritual plane will help you discover that God is indeed real and relevant. After all, God is all about conflict resolution.

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The third step we must make if we’re going to turn the corner from regret to resolution is to Remember that God is for His Children (Genesis 42:36). Upon hearing the news from the brothers, Jacob made four false statements:
1. Joseph is no more!
2. Simeon is no more!
3. Benjamin will be no more!
4. Everything is against me!
The truth is that everything is for Jacob. His problem was that he had forgotten the promise of God, found in Genesis 28:13-15. In that passage, God clarified to Jacob what he was going to do. God relayed it this way: “I am the Lord…The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions…And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (NLT).

In my reading last week I came across a statement about love. The writer stated that love involves a commitment to be with someone and a commitment to be for someone. I see that claim verified in God’s promise to Jacob. God wasn’t against Jacob and his family. Nothing could have been further from the truth. God is for his children. When all things appear to be against you, remember that the Father’s hand has sent it and the Father’s love has measured it to exactly fit your need.

Each morning as we bench press the blankets from our bodies and slide our feet out of bed and onto the floor we have to make a decision about how we’re going to face that day. The direction choice we make with each sunrise is whether we will live that day by faith or by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith determines to live life based on the person and the promises of God. On the other hand, sight determines to live life governed by the senses, the emotions, and the prevailing circumstances we will face. There was a day when Jacob lived by faith, but by this stage of the storyline, he is purely running on sight. If Jacob could be susceptible to “sight living,” so can we. The choice to live by faith is one of the most important daily decisions we can make.

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this week’s series with the final two steps on how to Turn the Corner from Regret to Resolution.

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Last weekend I outlined five steps that one needs to take to turn the corner from regret to resolution. The first of which was to Recognize that God is Always at Work (Genesis 42:25-28). Joseph’s brothers had sold him for a mere 20 pieces of silver. But when they found that their money had been mysteriously returned, they became upset. The very thing they once desired was now detestable in their sight. As far as I can tell, Joseph returned the money as an act of grace. There were no soldiers in pursuit. Joseph would never mention it again. Later, when the brothers confessed it to Joseph’s servant, he shrugged it off (43:23). The brothers were so far from God they couldn’t even comprehend simple grace. Because they were not right with God, they feared even his goodness.

In the story, the brothers exclaim, “What is God doing to us?” They are doing more than asking a question. They’re making a statement. It might be of interest to you that this is their first mention of God in the entire narrative. For the first time they are acknowledging that God is controlling a specific and important circumstance in their lives. God is always at work, even when we cannot perceive it. Just because we are not aware of God’s activity does not mean he isn’t actively working!

Second, Face Reality (Genesis 42:29-35). When the brothers returned from Egypt they were honest with Jacob about the fate of Simeon. They hadn’t been honest with Jacob about Joseph, and still haven’t for that matter. But at least we can see they are beginning to come to terms with what is real. Last year I read a helpful book by Dr. Henry Cloud titled Integrity. Cloud defines integrity as “the courage to meet the demands of reality.” His supposition is that we can only advance in life and live in wholeness when we are grounded in the truth of what is real. When we are aware of what is real, then we can work constructively to deal with issues past, present, and for that matter, future.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with the third step on how to turn the corner from regret to resolution.

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In 1636, Roger Williams, who had been exiled from Massachusetts, went to what is now called Rhode Island and established its very first settlement. He called the settlement Providence, stating that “divine guidance has led me here.”

Providence is defined simply by Chuck Swindoll as “The belief that the events of our lives are not ruled by fate of chance, but by our sovereign God and loving Lord who works out his plan and purpose in the lives of his children.”

In the lives of Joseph’s family, we can see God at work to bring resolution to the unaddressed and unhealed issues of the past. Twenty five long years have passed since Joseph was pitched in the pit and sold off to the slave traders. Living the daily grind must have felt like fate, but God was at work. Like this biblical family, we may feel like we’re on the treadmill of life, going through the motions, totally subjected to the winds of fate. But the providence of God would indicate otherwise. This week I’m going to post some reflections from Genesis 42-43 on how this family turned the corner from regret to resolution.

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