Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Choosing to Forgive

Forgiveness is a process that should always be working in our lives. If it is, we will constantly be using it to mend and repair broken relationships. People who have never been introduced to the concept of forgiveness carry a lot of baggage around. They are bitter and angry. Their list of resentment goes back through the years. They can readily recall incidents where they have been hurt. When they recall the event, the pain is as real as if it happened yesterday. The entire focus of the episode is on the wrong they have endured. Their demeanor is cross and annoyed. Absent is any attraction of being pleasant and inviting. How do people get like this? They get this way by not forgiving the person or persons who hurt them, and of course, the list continues to grow. What a terrible way to live! Their circle of life gets smaller and smaller the longer they live.

In contrast, the person who forgives is blessed with an easy burden to bear because forgiveness lifts the load of hurt, anger, and resentment. Being a forgiving person is a choice! We choose to forgive or not forgive. When we choose to forgive, we are saying, “I refuse to allow this hurt to control my life.” When we forgive, we set ourselves free from this quicksand of bitterness that envelopes us. Choosing to forgive is not always easy, in fact, sometimes it can seem almost impossible, but doing it is an abiding principle.

People who do not forgive rationalize that their situation is different. Their offense is unforgiveable. Confronting the perpetrator is essential because their behavior is inexcusable. It is true that forgiving a person does not automatically mean reconciliation nor that we confer trust to someone who has betrayed our trust. The forgiving person understands that there are no offenses that should not be forgiven, and this is what distinguishes their life from the unforgiving person. The forgiving person forgives to maintain the flow of God’s forgiveness in their life. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:15).

Forgiveness is not the goal but the means of restoring relationships. We long for connection, and offenses are the visible damage of broken connections. Forgiveness is our means of connecting with God and with those around us.

If you have been struggling with a person for years and the very thought of carrying on a good conversation is non-existent—you need to forgive them. If you are tortured by resentful thoughts about an incident and a particular person always comes to mind—you need to forgive them. Remember it is a process! It takes time, and you will have to forgive and keep on forgiving until the hurt goes away. Remember forgiveness is a choice!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Turning Confusion into Clarity

Confusion is a mental state where things are not congruent. The pieces of the puzzle simply do not fit. They not only do not fit, but you also seem to have a different puzzle to put together than the one you hold in your hands. We get confused when people treat us badly or are indifferent. We get confused when things do not add up. We get confused when things do not make sense. We are, however, really confused when bad things happen and the perpetrators seem to get away with it. That is exactly what happened to the prophet Habakkuk. The first part of the tiny book reveals his doubts and troubling questions he had for God. He wondered why God tolerated evil and why sinners were not punished. He was confused as to why the good people did not prosper but bad people did. He wondered why God was silent and did not answer his prayers. Habakkuk’s words are written for us today, “Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

The dangerous thing about confusion is that it changes us. It makes us depressed, discouraged, and even critical. We do well to not ignore confusion but to look for clarity. Some people have ignored the confusion in their life for years and have suffered for it.

Habakkuk knew where to take his complaints. He is known as the father of faith. His expression of faith "the righteous shall live by faith," influenced Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley and millions of others. He is an example to all of us that when we are confused, we should take it to God and share our hearts with him. God will listen and respond. He may not answer our questions with the answers we desire. He may not even answer our questions, but he will answer us.

God did answer Habakkuk, and the answer was certainly not what he expected, but it brought clarity to the prophet’s mind. Habakkuk realized that God knew what he was doing even when he did not. Therefore, what he needed to do was to completely trust God. Thus, here are Habakkuk’s famous words that have inspired us “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4). After processing everything and listening to God’s answer, he eloquently described a renewed faith in God. The difference between chapters one and three is night and day. Habakkuk’s words that end his tiny book show that God brought clarity out of his confusion:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

In the beginning of the book he was confused and felt that he had to have answers to move forward, but at the end he is resolved and faithful. Even if he is without some things in life—even answers, he has the faith to trust God, and that makes him strong.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Response to the Critics of Prayer

With the recent church shooting in Southerland Springs, Texas that left 26 dead and many others wounded, we are seeing a display of criticism against prayer. Nonbelievers have been quick to criticize anyone who says they are praying for the victims’ families. They say prayer is not helping or this would never have happened. The say, “The time for prayer is over—it’s time for action.” They blatantly say, “If prayer really worked—these Christians would have been spared the mayhem.” Let’s examine their logic. When a shooting takes place in a movie theater, they do not criticize those who make movies or build theaters. They do not blame the killing on the movie industry. When a shooting happens in a school, we don’t hear complaints against education. However, when it happens in churches, Christians are held to a higher standard than the rest of the mass shooting victims.

The point is that these unbelievers are describing their god to us. He is a little god that they can control and who answers to them. The very idea that God is omniscient does not compute with them. They know nothing of the God of the Bible.

The biggest discrepancy in their thinking is their inability to account for evil. Their explanations for evil fail them in such moments. In their thinking, humanity is supposed to be improving and getting better because of enlightenment and education, but when things like this happen and they can’t explain them, they are at a loss for explaining evil.

The Bible is very clear about evil—it comes from the sinful desires of human beings. It is also compounded by the Satanic influence present in this world. The origin of evil, according to the Bible, is sin, and sin is the cause of the world’s horrific problems. Every sin has a consequence; multiply that throughout the entire world and over every generation, and you can see that sin can have a devastating effect on people–even innocent people.

The Bible says there will be an ultimate reckoning with evil, and Satan himself will meet his eternal reward. However, until then the world will be plagued with evil, and any of us can feel its effects. God does not promise a cocoon for believers so that they never have to experience evil. What God does promise us is that we have eternal life beyond this temporal life. This is no small promise to people whose worldview considers the eternal perspective essential to living on this earth. God also promises us his presence and his comfort no matter what we face. Those of us who believe in the God of the Bible believe that he is bringing this world toward its ultimate end, and his timing is very different from ours. We trust him nonetheless with our lives, our futures, and our questions.

I, like others, would like to have seen the lunatic stopped in his tracks before he harmed on person in the church on November 5, 2017. However, for those of us who believe in God, we trust him despite our questions. As Habakkuk the prophet so eloquently said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab 3:17-18).

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Great Exchange

Having lived in different countries, I had to exchange currency, and sometimes the exchange was good, and sometimes it was not so good. When it was good, I would say, “I got a great exchange today.” Many exchanges take place every day in every part of our world, but I would like to talk about the greatest exchange of all time.

I am referring to what the Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Let us try to understand what Paul meant when he said this.

The Roman Centurion who was in charge of Jesus’ death saw Jesus die, and it greatly influenced his life. Luke records that seeing what happened, he praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47).

What are the events the centurion had seen? The Centurion had watched the manner in which Jesus had carried his cross and had responded to the women with kindness as he told them not to weep for him. The Centurion had heard Jesus pray for him and his soldiers to be forgiven, and he heard Jesus promise Paradise to the thief crucified beside him. He had heard Jesus’ triumphant cries from the cross and lastly, as he triumphantly committed his spirit into his father’s hands.

The Centurion had experienced 3 hours of eerie darkness that covered the cross. Though he probably did not know that the prophet Amos had prophesied hundreds of years prior about this darkness, "In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9).

Doubtless, the Centurion did not realize what Jesus’ death meant to the world, but he knew it meant something, and he stopped in his tracks and praised God. Through the centuries, God had accepted the sacrifice of animals for the remission of man’s sin, but now the greatest of sacrifices was offered—his son. It was the greatest of exchanges. God received our sin in all its filth and degradation, and we received the righteousness of Jesus Christ—God’s only Son! What an exchange this was!

Peter described it like this: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24).

As Jesus hung on the cross in excruciating agony bearing all our sin—our lies, our deceit, our murders and infidelities, our hate, and all our pride were placed on him. Instead of receiving the just punishment our sins deserved—Jesus received it. Then God gave us the righteousness of Christ. What an exchange! Paul’s words are so profound: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).