forgiveness

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

Tomorrow I turn 40. Lord willing, I’m about halfway done with this marathon we call life.

God has been so gracious to me. I have a godly wife who makes me laugh every day and two teenage children who grow daily in faith and wisdom. 25 and 27 years from now Camille and Soren will celebrate their 40th birthdays. This post is for them: it’s the hard-earned wisdom that I’ve accumulated over my years that I hope they can learn from. I hope it blesses you as well.

Here are the top ten truths I’ve learned in my 40 years:

1)     Seek wisdom

There is no end to foolishness in this world. Wisdom is a rare commodity. Run hard after it. Look to those whose character you admire. Listen to what they say and read what they write. When I was a kid, I was a sponge for sports trivia. I got a jolt in being able to know something someone else didn’t. In college I caught the bug for philosophical and theological knowledge. It took me until my later twenties and thirties to develop a stronger thirst for wisdom than knowledge. Accumulated wisdom is like the water of a river, it will smooth and shape the stones in its bed over time.

The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness

The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness

She sits in my office, tears running down her face. Two years ago her mother died in hospice while she lay asleep at home. She was trying to get a decent night’s rest after days spent at her mother’s side. “I just can’t forgive myself. I let her die alone. I knew I should have been there, but I was selfish. I can never forgive myself for that.”

I’ve heard dozens share similar confessions with me. Does this resonate with you? What guilt do you bear? What burdens are you carrying because you can’t forgive yourself?

Many are trapped because they can’t forgive themselves. My friend isn’t alone. And she feels trapped. Because she will never hear her mother offer her forgiveness, she feels like she can’t release herself from her guilt.

Why can’t you release yourself from your sin? Is it because the weight is too much? Because you know you haven’t changed? Because the ripple effects of your sin can’t be reversed?

I have good news—such good news. You don’t need to forgive yourself, because you can’t forgive yourself.

What?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.     Just How Big is the US Economy? This visual chart is a reminder of just how big the economies of the US and China are. Wow.

2.     5 Misconceptions About Heaven and the Afterlife: This is quite the read, with a lot loaded in here, but if you enjoyed my series on heaven last year, I think you will enjoy this more academic version. J. Richard Middleton's has several pointed moments including this one: "For many decades now I have been asking my students—whether in Bible studies, Sunday School, or in my college and seminary courses—to find even one biblical passage that clearly says that Christians will live in heaven forever (or that heaven is the eternal destiny of the believer). I have even offered a reward for success. So far no one has ever found such a passage."

3.     Why God Delights to Forgive: Scott Hubbard shares this wonderful news with us, "[D]eep down, where roots sink into soil, we wonder if God is really that happy forgiving us. Our suspicions easily replace the Bridegroom’s pleasure with pursed lips, the Shepherd’s song with a lecture, and the Father’s robe with the elder brother’s hand-me-downs. If we are going to feel and not just confess that God delights to forgive those who come to him through Jesus, we will need to grasp why he forgives."

4.     Don't Downplay Your Suffering: Regan Rose with a counter-intuitive admonition: " One of the biggest mistakes believers can make when facing a tragedy is to minimize it. I think so many of us do it because we are lacking a robust theology of suffering. So, our first reaction to a tragedy is to try and explain it away. “Hey, it could be worse!” “Everything will be okay.” “This is just a season.” Like a doctor slapping a smiley face sticker over a cancerous tumor, all some Christians know to do in the face of true calamity is to pave it over with platitudes."

5.     Crowder's Happy Day: How can you not smile when you watch this?

Forgiveness Like a Child

Forgiveness Like a Child

Most every night a transformation happens right as our put our 20-month-old foster boy down to bed. Minutes after he is happily reading books with me and seconds after he is sweetly swaying in my arms as I sing to him, he transforms. The moment happens as I place him in his crib. He rolls over and, with big tears rolling down his fat cheeks, he wails. As I leave the room and close the door, he stands in the crib, looking at me with pleading eyes. “How could you abandon me?” his eyes ask.

The sun sets, the moon rises and sets, and the sun rises again. I open his door to find him sleeping. I turn off the sound machine and open the window shade. He hikes up his cute bottom in the air, rolls over, and pulls himself up and greets me with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. I smile back and he giggles.

Forgiven.

Fast forward several hours, and a couple sits on my couch in my office. He can’t move past the fact that she won’t make love to him. She can’t move past the fact she caught him watching porn.[i]

Not forgiven.

The claws of unforgiveness are sharp and relentless.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      The Danger of Forgiving Too Fast: Mike Glenn tells a story and then offers this sober wisdom, "My mom rushed me back to the oral surgeon who looked at me and said something I’ve never forgotten. “Mike, you healed too fast.” When I asked him what he meant, he said the gum tissue where he had made the incision had closed before the wound could totally drain. When that happened, the bacteria were trapped causing a major infection... I’ve ended up retelling that story a lot—especially to my friends who have been wounded and hurt. They want to forgive. They want to deal with it, move on, and get past the pain. In their rush to get over it, they heal too fast and trap the anger, bitterness, and hurt inside before it can drain out. Just like our bodies, our souls can get infected. If we fail to properly treat our wounds, the anger, embarrassment, and hurt will fester into bitterness and despair."

2.      These Two Statements Changed My Ministry: Dave Travis writes that 30 years ago the first statement shook and changed him, "The first statement came from Kennon Callahan: 'The day of the professional pastor is over. The day of the missionary pastor is here.'"

3.      What if Solomon's Example Was Bad, Not Good? Ian Duguid takes the provocative position that Solomon's example is negative, not positive in Song of Solomon. It's an interesting position. One doesn't have to agree with the position itself to agree with Duguid's main point, " But by connecting the song with the name of Solomon, with all his sexual brokenness, the writer reminds us that there are many dangers associated with marriage and sex. It is not easy to find the right person, or to be the right person, and faithfully waiting for that person is perhaps the hardest part of all."

4.      People Aren't Yes or No Answers: Stephen Altrogge with a great article on addressing the heart behind the pointed questions, "Behind every yes-or-no question is almost always a series of deeper questions, struggles, fears, and challenges. When someone asks me whether abortion is wrong, there’s usually much more lying beneath the surface. The question is simply the tip of the iceberg... When someone asks me whether homosexuality is a sin or whether abortion is wrong, is it simply because they’re curious about my opinion? Are they just searching for a conversation topic? Probably not. Simple questions about massive issues are like weeds with a roots that runs incredibly deep. The questions themselves are connected to things much deeper and more profound happening in a person’s life. Giving a simple answer is like plucking the weed without dealing with the root. It doesn’t solve the issue."

5.      How Evangelicalism Has Shifted Over 50 Years: I wish these graphs were clearer, but their content is fascinating. Some of the interesting facts: since 1970, Mainline Christianity has shrunk from 30% of the population to 10% and those who say they don't have any religious affiliation has gone from 5% to 20%.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Three Predictors of Porn Use: Jay Stringer explains, "Perhaps you’ve found yourself not able to turn off your allure to porn. If so, a far more beneficial approach to recovery than combating lust is to focus on the themes that drive and necessitate your use of pornography. Until these themes are transformed, you will find yourself in the same, pernicious cycle of pornography use."

2.       How to Heal the Damage Caused by Family Conflict: Mark Gregston wisely reflects, " Not following up on hurtful actions of confrontations to either correct the mistakes you’ve made or affirm the relationship is what allows conflict to cause damage to your relationship with your child.   Remember that you’re not only resolving issues that you have with your child, but, more importantly you are setting the example of conflict resolution and teaching your child how to admit fault, assume a position of humility, and ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing; all characteristics in a person’s life that are more caught than taught."

3.       5 Honest Struggles Church Leaders Don't Want to Admit: Carey Nieuwhof with a good reminder of the lies leaders can easily get entrapped by, "Greater faithfulness should result in greater impact in ministry. Pursue God, and pursue a great mission. Both are critical. But God doesn’t reward the most faithful with the best results."

4.       The Best Preacher in the World: David Murray says, " Every church needs two preachers. We need a human preacher, one who is visible, audible, tangible. But we also need a divine preacher, one that is invisible, inaudible, and intangible. I’m speaking of the Holy Spirit, without whom the work of the human preacher is in vain."

5.       Girl Scout Marketing Meeting: Jon Crist will have you laughing at the silliness of the Girl Scout's marketing plan.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Why You Can't Forgive Yourself: HB Charles on why "how do I forgive myself?" is an illegitimate question, "This is the self-centered psychology of the world, not the teaching of scripture. In fact, it contradicts the message of the Bible. If I need to forgive myself, it suggests that I am the God that I have offended and need to appease. This way of thinking is not just erroneous, it is blasphemous."

2.      6 Surprises Every Premarital Counselor Should Address: Dave Harvey hits the nail on the head. Thinking about marriage? Read this. Walking alongside someone preparing for marriage? Read this. Feeling alone in your marital struggles? Read this. "Many young couples head into marriage with blinders—believing their marriage will be the fairy tale they dreamed of as they planned a Pinterest ceremony and momentous honeymoon. But the truth is marriage reveals our sin, exposes our desires, challenges our relational network, and requires us to regularly practice costly forgiveness."

3.      What does the Mormon on the Other Side of Your Door Believe? Very helpful primer by Justin Taylor.

4.      What does the Jehovah's Witness on the Other Side of your Door Believe?  Justin Taylor addresses Jehovah’s Witnesses as well.

5.      Pursuit: A month of chasing storms captured in seven spell-binding minutes.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.     This is About That: That Great video on the true meaning of marriage by Andrew Wilson.

2.     What Does Evangelism Look Like in Your Day-to-Day Life? Phil Miglioratti with a call to show and tell the gospel as we go.

3.     12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You:  Excerpt from Tony Reinke’s new book.  

4.     Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable: The incredible testimony of the forgiveness of the Egyptian Christians.

5.     Marriage Wounds: Melissa Edgington with a compelling reflection on marriage, scars and beauty: "But, a few days ago I looked down and realized that somehow in the course of my work, my ring had gotten knocked against my finger and had left a small cut there, hidden underneath the beautiful gold, a scar on the delicate-looking redhead’s fair flesh of my left hand. I was surprised to see it there, because in all of these years of dealing with babies and a mother’s work, I never remember my ring doing such a thing. But, there it was. A wound inflicted by the very symbol of never-ending love between a man and a woman."

6 Ways a Leader Needs to Respond to a Departing Congregant

6 Ways a Leader Needs to Respond to a Departing Congregant

I sat across the room from the couple, trying to slow down my mind and open my heart to the criticism they were leveling at me. They had been offended by my sermon and had reacted on Facebook, indicating they were leaving the church. I reached out privately and asked if we could meet to talk. They agreed to do so. When we met, he was relatively calm, but she was very upset and I knew that I needed to hold my own emotions in check to be able to listen to the heart of what she was saying and respond in love, not hurt. As I had prayed to prepare for the meeting I genuinely didn’t think I was going to be able to ask for forgiveness for anything as I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. But in the midst of the meeting God opened my heart to see an area of blindness. I was able to ask and receive their forgiveness for the way this blind spot had injured them. I then asked if they would be willing to ask for forgiveness for their slander. They were willing to do so and I forgave them.

These are not the meetings that you think about when you sign up to be a pastor or leader, but there are few moments more important in your ministry than these tense conversations.

Two friends have responded to my series on leaving and finding a church with questions about a pastor’s responsibility in the midst of church departures. It’s a fair and helpful question. Over the course of this series I’ve reflected on a congregant’s responsibility, but pastors and leaders bear a responsibility to help congregants navigate departures well.

Slow Down: a Dad's Reflection

Slow Down: a Dad's Reflection

Our kids just finished fifth and seventh grade. Unless God has unexpected plans for us, elementary school is now in our rear view mirror. The week of my son’s fifth grade promotion, Nicole Nordeman’s “Slow Down” came on. I froze as I listened and welled up.