The Holiness of Forgiveness

“I, I am he

        who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,

     and I will not remember your sins.”  Isaiah 43:25 ESV

 

It has been said that you can’t lead someone somewhere you haven’t been. This last season of moving to Utrecht has been filled with new experiences and emotions, many of which were not so pleasant. I’ve been many places I never thought I needed to go.  I’ve explored deeper depths of my own soul than at any other time in my life. What I found there only added to any self pity and anguish I was already experiencing. But that’s the beauty of transition. It forces us into a place where our armor’s off, the gloves are down, and God can begin to make life from some things that needed to die. It’s a hard thing to accept that you are a bitter person.  Even more when you never realized it was there and were under the impression that even if it was, you are doing what was necessary to deal with it. Dealing with whatever it is that you find lurking in the depths of your own soul often flies in the face of our more immature readings of scripture.

Take Paul in Philippians 4 when he says to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, etc. How many times I have used this verse and verses like it (such as take every thought captive) and applied them to problems they were never meant to solve! Perhaps this is where the problem starts? I took these verses and those like them and added in some American (or is it British?) “get on with it, just move on, it doesn’t really matter, you’re over reacting” and found myself with a pile of dirty laundry so rancid even the flies avoided it.

It all comes back to a gross misunderstanding of forgiveness. I grew up believing (subconsciously through no fault of my parents) that forgiveness meant saying, “I forgive you.” At the moment that those words left a person’s mouth, that meant forgiveness had taken place and all was right with the world. If only. What I didn’t realize was that forgiveness only works if you actually acknowledge what you are forgiving. Let me say this another way – forgiveness only cancels the hurt and pain that the forgiver is willing to acknowledge is true. Truth is whatever is, therefore God is ultimate Truth because He always is, but I digress. Whether my reaction, or feelings, or opinion of the matter were right, they were no less true in that they existed. Now we’re getting somewhere. My counselor said it like this (yes all missionaries either do or should have a counselor – nay all people in leadership!) He said that to forgive means acknowledging we will never get from that person what was owed us. Do you see the subtle difference there? If I say, “I forgive you” I can still cling to whatever I have been hoping you would give me (or not give me, or do or not do). I can forgive the act but all the while cling to my ideas and hopes for the future. But real forgiveness makes no claims on the future. Real forgiveness cancels the debt with the knowledge that the debt will never be repaid. What was lost is just that… lost.

What’s more, God says above in Isaiah and in Jeremiah 31 the same, “I will remember their sin no more.” If God can choose not to remember our sin, then we know he must be fully aware of it, has acknowledged that it is real, has acknowledged the damage it has done, the hurt it has caused, and has not taken it lightly. We can’t forget something we have never been made aware of – that would make it new information to us. But if he chooses not to remember, then it presupposes knowledge of the thing he is no longer remembering. It’s a conscious choice to not remember it. It isn’t something He just gets over, like breaking up a long standing dating relationship. We treat forgiveness like this: if we just move on and add enough time, we will get over it and the offense will no longer bother us. Oh and in my case if we say “I forgive you.” But God does not “move on” from it and pretend it’s “not a big deal” or that “it’s both our faults so how could I hold it against you.” I think we especially like this one in our neo-moral society. No. God is fully aware that it isn’t His fault. And anyways, how could he so easily move on from it? The cost of that sin was the life of is very own Son. I don’t see God saying anywhere in scripture, “it’s not a big deal, I’ll just get over it.”

That is the subtle temptation the devil likes to play. Move on. It doesn’t really hurt. You’re over-reacting. It was also the missing piece of my own forgiveness process. Or rather the reality that I had no process. My father has recently said that a path without a process yields little progress. That was certainly true for me in this regard. So what does this all look like? I am learning to acknowledge the full weight of the offense – right, wrong or otherwise. Whether it is a real offense or not is inconsequential. My feelings say it is and if I don’t acknowledge them as real, they will go into hiding and come out at the worst possible time, often on someone or something that doesn’t deserve the wrath of my ire! In acknowledging the offense I acknowledge the hurt and pain I feel, all the implications of what was done and how that has affected me. I spare no detail and submit my thoughts to no restraint. I personally like to write it all out. If I don’t get it out, it will remain in. I’ve heard of some people speaking these things, but I have to write them down. When I feel that the full weight of the offense has been transferred to paper and the words satisfy all that I feel and have experienced), I then reflect on what Jesus has done for me and I write that in spite of all the totality of the offense as written on the paper, I will choose to forgive. I then sometimes begin listing what I am forgiving. For me there is healing in connecting each hurt to forgiveness. In essence, I bring it all to light, leaving nothing hidden of what I feel inside. Then and only then can I forgive the totality of the offense because I have finally acknowledged that it is a real offense, it has done real damage, and it has caused real pain. It is real, and it will remain with me until I acknowledge it. Then after I have written out my forgiveness, I throw the paper away. Some people burn it. Whatever is done, I can’t go back to that paper to remember what I wrote. It’s not a journal entry. It’s been dealt with. I can’t go back.

Having this understanding of forgiveness has rocked my world in connection with what God has done for us. If all that baggage was in me for offenses done to me, certainly wrong, but nothing like the evil many people have experienced, let alone God himself, how absolutely unimaginable and unfathomable is His forgiveness!?!?!

This is where it starts getting really interesting! Look at the verse at the top again. Who is God forgiving for? Himself! This blows my mind. God, the Holy God, forgives offenses, even after acknowledging their full weight, because He is Holy and Righteous. Righteous is another word for justice. Holiness means He only does what is right all the time. Why is this such a big deal? Because if God forgives because it is Holy and righteous, to be just and holy, one must forgive. The inverse is also true. It is unjust and unrighteous to count one’s sin against them. I’ll say it again a different way: it is unholy and therefore sin to not forgive. If God were to not forgive, He would stop being Holy. Let that sink in for a moment. God is saying, “I will always be Holy, I can’t not be Holy. Therefore, I will forgive.”

It’s hard for me to even write that. I’ve become much more wary of making claims about God as I’ve gotten older and experienced more of Him, none the less I am making this one. I love definitions, so here’s one more way of looking at it. Lack of forgiveness:

to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.

to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).

to grant pardon to (a person).

to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.

to cancel an indebtedness or liability of:

leads us to leave resentment undealt with:

a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury

which causes us to act out in bitterness:

a deep-seated ill will

a harsh or sharp quality

an uncomfortable degree of coolness

biting sharpness of feeling or expression

 

God is Holy. He will not allow Himself to leave resentment undealt with and act in bitterness, which would be sin. He forgives for His own sake because He is Holy. And this is what we all desire isn’t it? To be around people who do the right thing no matter what? To surround ourselves with people of honor, who choose righteousness for their own sake. And we haven’t even mentioned the freedom that comes! Oh the freedom of no longer carrying a “deep seated ill will,” of no longer feeling prone to “a harsh or sharp quality,” of no longer feeling “an uncomfortable degree of coolness” towards those around you and acting out in “biting sharpness of feeling or expression.”

I will end with Pauls words:

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [ahem-bitterness-cough].” Galations 5:1 [brackets added] :-D

 

 

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The Tortoise

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Most of us are all familiar with possibly Aesop’s most famous fable, The Tortoise and The Hare. Its truth becomes more and more apparent as I age and I was reminded again of it this morning as I seek to engage a local coffee roaster who happens to have the best coffee in the city – in fact some of the best I’ve ever had. But as I arrived I could tell he didn’t recognize me, and I’m fairly confident he doesn’t remember my name. We’ve only been in Utrecht a few months and I was gone for one of those so it’s understandable. I went there for coffee and to go through my emails before finishing my ride home after dropping the boys off at school, so I didn’t seek to make chit-chat.

An earlier version of Brad however would have. He would have started up conversation and pushed and sought to establish a connection. The current version however has come away from France a bit wiser.

When I arrived in France in 2016, I established a relationship with just about every person I could and then sought to foster that relationship towards spiritual conversation with the hopes of eventually discipleship. Sort of a shotgun approach to relationship. I was like a young Labrador – zealously trying to make friends with any person who would give me attention. The problem with this approach is that before I knew it I had too many relationships I was trying to manage. As more and more people came into my life and we continued to get established, something had to give. I saw the result of my lack of foresight fully materialize in our second and third years. I would eventually run across people I invested extensively in but for one reason or another the relationship had to take a backseat to other things as new needs arose. And so people I once enjoyed a warmth from now returned my greetings with coldness. In France especially, you shouldn’t start a relationship you don’t intend to maintain (or aren’t able to maintain). It’s a good lesson for life in general.

This is the lesson of the tortoise. Pace. The hare goes hard and fast, getting distracted by new things along the way, eventually getting tired and burning out before the finish, requiring him to rest before he crosses the line. The tortoise focuses on the finish line and paces himself towards it, effectively beating the hare.

In discipleship, it’s very easy to take the shotgun approach and try and witness and minister to every person who comes across our path and I understand the desire to do so. But this may not be the best approach. Recently reading through Exodus I was reminded of the amount of time that it took for the Israelites to cross the desert and the perspective it provides. It struck me how I’ve often historically judged God as an angry judge of His people (based on my immature reading of scripture), all the while I could only count Him becoming upset with them something like 4 times over the span of some 40 years. 4 times. If I could go a week and only get upset with my children 4 times I’d consider myself for father of the year! Or look at Jesus’ ministry. He calls 12 people to follow Him. He gets a few more in addition to those and eventually a huge crowd shows up from time to time. None-the-less, His primary focus was on those 12. He didn’t veer from that, nor did He make it easier for others to join Him, speaking in riddles and parables for everyone else, then revealing the meaning to the twelve.

My point is that we often lose sight of the amount of time it takes to achieve results in anything. We are desperate for results now. We don’t always pace ourselves towards the finish line, and so we don’t finish well or paradoxically finish nearly as fast as we could have. In discipleship and searching out a person of peace (someone spiritually interested), you must be ready to spend lots of time with that person, week in, week out. You must be willing to do life with them, and you must be able to follow that relationship through until they reach maturity. If you do, you will have multiplied yourself, or in the case of a Discovery Bible Study done correctly, multiplied yourself by 2-5 times. In the long run this means you see the gospel spread much faster as it shifts into a multiplication movement.

So less-ignorant-than-a-few-years-ago Brad would encourage you in this way: as you seek to see others discover Jesus, pace yourself. God can do a lot more in our waiting than we can in our striving. He seems to like to do more with less.

Incidentally, as I finished catching up on emails and stood up to leave and pay, I noticed a coffee bag label waiting to be assigned a bag of coffee. It read, “Myanmar.” For those who know about coffee, Myanmar is not a typical exporter of good coffee beans. In my surprise, I questioned aloud, “Myanmar?” What unfolded  was an organic 10 minute conversation into the burgeoning coffee industry in south-east Asia, bathrooms in Denmark, and the finer points of different espresso machines. He didn’t remember me at the beginning, but I’m fairly certain he’ll remember me now. And all because I kept my big mouth shut.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

 

Doubt

I am beginning to believe there is no greater enemy to faith than doubt. It is often mentioned alongside faith in the New Testament:

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus – Matthew 14:31,

“If you have faith and do not doubt,” Jesus – Matthew 21:21, “

“Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.” Paul – Romans 14:23

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” James – James 1:6

So doubt, even a little, seems to cancel or at least inhibit the results of our faith, based on the verses above. In the first verse, without looking at context, we can determine that something didn’t happen that could have because of doubt. In the next three we are told our faith must be free of doubt. Not one of these verses allows for even a slight amount.

Harsh? Black and white? Perhaps. If the above is true, then the next statements are also true:

My tiny doubting keeps me from experiencing blessing

My little doubt inhibits my faith

My little doubt makes me unreliable

My little doubt can lead me to sin

I may be totally off base here. I don’t mean to write this to condemn anyone or make you feel uncomfortable, but let me speak from experience for a bit, for I am being convicted of my own doubt and the results that have followed.

In the lead up to arriving in The Netherlands, I was full of faith. What does that mean? Good question. But suffice to say I knew I (we) was (were) on the right track. We had been in a process of discernment for over a year and we were as honest with ourselves and God as we could have been. I know I was continually lead and guided by God and saw confirmation of His direction over and over again. By the time we realized it was The Netherlands God was calling us to this last Spring, I would have knowingly been in rebellion to go somewhere else, or at the very least knowingly choosing something that wasn’t God’s best for me and my family (that might be the same thing as rebellion – perhaps another blog).

Then came the resistance. The journey to get here has been one step forward, 3/4 of a step back. If God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, for us, it’s felt like He’s parted the first few meters, said, “Go,” and then parted the next few meters after we stepped in. As I write this I feel like I am on the sea floor in the middle of an ocean. There is a wall of water in front, walls of water beside, and a wall of water behind, and yet I walk on dry ground. The things we need to take place we can’t make happen. At the same time, there is no retreat, just failure for me if He doesn’t bring us through, there’s nothing but opposition to our right and left.

None the less, we have walked on dry ground. I think the problems for me have come because we’re in The Netherlands now and the perspective changes after obedience. While it’s easy to be in one place “full of faith” to go somewhere else, it’s different once you’ve gone and burned the ships of retreat. All of a sudden, you look back at the flames eating away at your last chance of return and think, did God really say, “Go”? Did I actually hear God? Did God really ask me to leave a healthy functioning community and go where I had none? Did God really ask us to leave everything we had come to know and adjust to, and start over again? Did God really say, “Stay in Europe,” even though your heart longs for the fellowship of family and ease of your homeland? Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” We’ve seen this line of questioning before.

Then there’s the follow up questions: how are you going to convince others God said this? What if some aren’t convinced? What if you lose your support? What if it doesn’t work out? What if you misunderstood God and you were supposed to “Go… next year.”

Before I know it, I’m staring at a wall of ocean ready to come down on me and my family besides (of which I will have to take responsibility for), instead of staring straight ahead into the eyes of Jesus, who is walking backwards singing Variations On A Theme Of Dory, “Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking.”

The results that come from looking back (doubting) are the real problem. I become agitated, short-tempered, easily irritated, prone to anger and outbursts, needy, overly dependent and emotional, indecisive, depressed, discouraged, unmotivated, and just plain hard to be around. No wonder “without faith it’s impossible to please God” Hebrews 11, for if I don’t have faith, I have doubt, and the doubt in me only produces all these negative things in me neither I, nor God, want. Even if most of me is in the faith camp, that means some of me is in the doubt camp, and that some results in one or more of the list above.

So yes, I do believe doubt is the enemy of faith, at least in me. How do we overcome it? How have I overcome it? I’m not sure I have yet. But when I was consistently praying for more faith and the fruit of the Spirit, I believe my faith was increasing. I certainly wasn’t having more doubts. If I fill my cup with water, it’ll push the oil out at the top. I must also fill my own head with and hear myself speak God’s truth. I believe there is something powerful in speaking truth to yourself and hearing yourself say things. It’s one thing to think them, but we act differently when we speak something out loud. We allow ourselves many thoughts we wouldn’t speak out loud. Why is that? This is getting into a different topic. But I know that especially for me, speaking truth to myself is a big help. My friend Brenda says, “speak life.” I like that. God knows how to give me good things, and I’m quite confident that faith is one of those things if I ask for it.

"Crumble, crumble, 
Voiceless things;
No faith can last
That never sings.

For the last hour
To joy belongs;
The steadfast perish
But not the songs."   
                   Lascelles Abercrombie, The Stream's Song. 
                                         Stanzas 6 and 7

 

Let the singing begin.

Weekly-ish Review

Been a crazy couple of weeks, so much so that writing hasn’t been on our radar. Here’s what’s been going down:

Moving day is this friday August 9th. It’s been a whirlwind of plans formalizing and then falling through and formalizing again. That seems to be the norm of this transition and I almost expect something to go wrong at the last minute again. None the less, we know God will provide! We are so blessed by the ICCP community and the help that they have provided and will continue providing.

We have finalized everything for the house we will move to. Funny enough, it became available the day after we turned in our 30 day notice, which was around the 19th I believe. Fairly obvious that God was asking us to step out in faith and trust Him!

Last Sunday I had the privilege to speak in front of the congregation of ICCP. I received a lot of good feedback which is encouraging. Nice to be reminded God can use you through something that you’re not quite comfortable with. Here’s the message on ICCP’s soundcloud.

Continuing on with the social media links, we’ve started a facebook page for more moment by moment interaction with you all. You can link into that here.

Finally said goodbye to Mount Sainte Victoire. Spent last Thursday at this spot which has been pretty significant for me over the last three years. This time was to write some pauline-style letters of exhortation for the men and women we’ve mentored and discipled these last three years. I’m excited to be able to give them to these fellow brothers and sisters.

Otherwise Hannah’ s been crushing it packing up the house and I’ve been working on the Visa, moving logistics, and the details of a trip back to the states in October. Stressful times. Need my brain to hold up, been losing things left and right, not the least of which was my wallet. Funny thing though, everything in it besides 10€, a bus pass, and a credit card is expired as of today. Locked the card, obviously the bus pass and 10€ are gone. But mostly I’m bummed because my sister bought it for me and I liked it a lot! None the less, we thank God I didn’t need anything in it to keep going in regards to The Netherlands. We thank God – seems like a good way to end this post. His grace is sufficient.

What a Weekend!

It’s been amazing to watch as God has continued to affirm and establish what we’ve done at ICCP.

Two weeks ago Friday, I had the great privilege of leading a worship night at the church on a very important evening in France, Fête de la Musique. On this night and only this night, anyone can play music anywhere in the street throughout the city, so we decided to do a evening of music in the church as well. It was kind of a last hurrah for me. In the end it was a great success and we had something like 90 passers-by walk in and check things out while we were playing.

The following Sunday, I had the enormous privilege to commission Jérémie and Leisa during the evening service. Church services can be incredibly dynamic and life giving, on one very major condition, that is; the Spirit is given the authority over the service, and people must be given freedom to speak and proclaim what He’s saying during the service. In that sense it’s no different than a dbs. I mean it’s one thing to walk away from a service and think, “ah yeah, the teacher made some good points.” It’s another to walk away and go, “THAT… WAS… INCREDIBLE!” That is something we’ve been fostering at ICCP, and the result is nothing short of life-altering. Case in point, when I went to the stage with Jérémie and Leisa, I told everyone that I was going to pray for the new worship leaders, and invited any one in the congregation who wanted to pray over them to join. There is something so beautiful and old testament-like about this idea of commissioning. I personally believe there is power in it. I couldn’t explain more. Something like baptism; God shows up. In any case He was there that evening. I felt like a proud father blessing his children, passing on the leadership mantle. Two of us prayed over them and blessed their ministry, and then another girl who is part of the worship team received visions from God for both of them and their future ministries. (This would have been weird for me 4 years ago, but since being overseas I’ve become more or less used to the prophetic – if you think the prophetic is no more, I would argue it’s alive and well in France). The first vision was that Leisa was like an Eagle, and people would be carried on the wings of her worship and she would be given the eyes of discernment like an eagle to see far and discern wisdom, and God would be her wind and she would not strive or work to carry the congregation but that God would be the lift for her wings! The second was Jérémie was like a fire that had the roar of a stampede of horses, and as he charged towards the target he set everything in his wake on fire with the gospel, and that he would increase in speed and effectiveness towards the goal!

I wish this girl (her name is Jodie) was around when I started my ministry! These are not the kind of words people can just make up on the spot. I think when we start with an assumption that God will do something, we give Him the freedom to actually do it! In this case of the passing on of a leadership mantle, which based on my limited readings of the old and new testaments is kind of a big deal, we expected God to anoint them with His power for the worship leading task given them. Mission accomplished.

The response of the congregation was evident – people knew God was among them and continued to open their hearts to Him throughout the service. At the end of the service I counted no fewer than 4 people praying with leaders. I know it caused some changes in people’s hearts that evening and it was a joy to be a part of.

Most of all, it was incredible to hear God confirm through someone elee what He spoke to me last fall about Jérémie and Leisa, and no less before the whole church. God is moving. Amen.