Forgiveness: A Journey of Healing

Sunset
Forgiving is a journey of healing

If I had to choose one area of life that is the most difficult to do as a follower of Jesus Christ, I would have to pick forgiveness.  I know it doesn’t make sense when you look at it in light of the cross and the forgiveness Jesus has provided for us.  But words hurt.  Personal attacks stay with us.  People who are friends betray us and we are left wondering what we are to do with the broken pieces.  It is tough, raw, and never as easy as it seems it should be.  Deep down in us we want justice.  We want to feel like God has taken care of the problem. (in other people of course, not in us)

I have struggled with this and God has been gracious to give me insights from His Word on this.  What does it look like to forgive someone?  What does it feel like?  And how do you know it is actually done?

Joseph was just another one of Jacob’s sons.  Yet, God had given Joseph a special ability and that really irritated his brothers.  I mean, he sort of rubbed it in, but that is just what siblings do.  So we see them come up with this plan in Genesis 37 to kill him and throw him into a cistern.  Yikes!  My brother annoyed me, but I never planned to do that.  Thankfully Reuben had a little more sense than that and he talked them into just throwing them into the cistern and leaving him there.  So they throw him into the cistern and then they sit there and eat their lunch!  I mean, can you imagine what kind of strange scene that might have been. How do you enjoy your sandwich when your brother is down in a hole yelling for help?  They then end up selling their brother as a slave to Egypt and then telling their father that he is dead.  That is not nice.  Don’t do that!

Fast forward now and Joseph has been given a position of power in Egypt.  He actually ends up being in a position to inflict harm on his brothers who have come looking for food in a  terrible famine.  It was his chance to get revenge.  But what does he do?  In Genesis 45 we see a broken man loving his brothers despite the abuse.  Yes, the same ones who had hurt him so deeply!  What does this tell us about forgiveness?

Forgiving Does Not Mean Forgetting

Genesis 45:2 says that Joseph wept so loudly in this moment that everyone heard him.  This was the heart of a man who saw his brothers, loved his brothers, but felt the pain of what had taken place.  It hurt him deeply.  And yet he decided that he was not going to hurt them.

The other people involved are in pain also

Let’s be honest.  Just because I said that mean thing or did that in anger, it does not mean I am free and clear of the pain.  The pain is shared.  It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have been on the side of the offender, you have been hurt by it also.  I have no doubt in my mind that at some point his brothers kind of said to each other “hey, you know I kind of feel bad about that.”  We have all been there.  So when Joseph starts weeping  it makes these guys panic.  What is he going to do?  Will he hurt us? No.  He has no intention to.  In a true moment of God’s grace here recorded in scripture, they embrace each other, allowing the pain to be released.  And then it says they talked.  What a picture of forgiveness and the grace of God!

Joseph was able to recognize God’s hand in the pain

He said that despite what they had hoped to accomplish in seeing him sold off, God had accomplished his good purposes.  His pain was used to save lives, ironically even their lives.  That is really hard to see in the moment, but what a beautiful mess it really is when we get that.

Let the past remain in the past

After he sends them back to get their father he gives them instructions.  Do not fight on the way back.  I love that because I know I would probably want to have a conversation about who was more at fault in the whole thing.  It is never my idea, is it?  But Joseph is telling them to forget about all of that and just go get dad.  Do not go back in the past.  Let’s move ahead.

This all reminds us of Jesus Christ

This makes us look to Jesus Christ again because he was rejected, sold off and beaten.  He was betrayed in the most cruel ways.  We rebelled and put him on that cross.  Yet, he is willing to forgive us which saves us from our own mess. What a wonderful Savior!   He is willing to send out sins far away and restore our relationship with God.

Oh, God, help us all to be just as kind to other people who wrong us.  It hurts us for sure, but Jesus Christ is able to help us in it. If you are struggling to forgive, look to Jesus Christ.  It is not easy at all, but He understands fully and is able to help.

 

God is There

There are times I look at someone and I wish I had more to offer.  I wish I had the words to make things better.   As a parent, we try to make things better with our children.  Comfort them, kiss the wound, and send them on their way.  But in so many lives there is anxiety, depression or emotional scars that are far deeper than a band-aid and a kiss.  They need God.  I am so glad He is there.  You see, the good news is that God is willing to go to all of those places!

beach
No matter where you go, God is willing to go there with you. 

In Genesis 39 there is a familiar story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  To make a long story short, she ends up accusing him of trying to assault her and Joseph ends up in jail.  But do you know what it says?   It says that while Joseph was in prison, God was with him.  He was even in solitary confinement and God was with him.  God showed kindness to him and watched over him even though he was suffering.  He didn’t take the suffering away.  He was there with him in it.

It is a healthy reminder for all of us that there is no limit to God’s presence in our life.  If you are in prison, the hospital, or in your living room wondering how to navigate the pain of your life, God is with you!    Sure the suffering might not just disappear, but knowing you are not alone should give you some hope.

So remember that no matter where you go in life, God is willing to go there with you.

Joy, Pain and Christmas

The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it.  On the one hand, it is really fun.  I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels?  It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events.  To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement.  But in all of my preparation this week for two services,  and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through.  Does that seem strange?  Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community.  I have seen some suffering.  I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy

tree
Christ is the hope of Christmas.

this year?  You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away.  Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life.  Suicide.  Depression.  Alcoholism.  Abuse of all kinds.  Stress.  Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.

So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas?  Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace.  Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve.  But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it.  Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me.   And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!”  You are why He came!  You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way.  In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope.  Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way.  Why?  Because Jesus has come and is coming again.

Do you have some questions?  Yes.  Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved?  Yes.  But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.

So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way.  In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth.  He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it.  I  have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time.  Those kinds of things mean the world to people.   It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.

Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.

 


Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us?   Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.

Are God’s arms too short?

It is all in His hands
It is all in His hands

It seems there are impossible circumstances and people all around us.  In ministry I find the challenge is to balance out ways to help someone and be realistic about the results.  It is those times when our faith is increased because it is something only God is able to do.

There is a story in Numbers 11 about Moses and Israelites.  Naturally they are being an impossible group of people to lead because they are taking the blessings of God (freedom from slavery, daily food to eat) and complaining that they are not good enough.  Really?  Do you guys even remember what slavery was like?

But it was an impossible scene and God was not pleased with the people.  Moses heard the complaining and he also grew increasingly angry.  God decides he is going to give them meat to eat for a whole month and, as He tells them, “the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.”  (I would add “and you will like it”)  Moses, as the rational leader that he is, wonders how God is going to provide so much food for so many people for so much time.   God answers Moses with such graciousness.

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” – Numbers 11:23

It seems every day is a new day to question how God is going to take care of a situation.  These are opportunities for Him to get the glory and for us to stand back and praise Him.  I know of lives that are in complete shambles, but we are seeing God’s work in lives in the smallest, yet most profound ways.  I have seen situations where our own family has been wondering how we would pay a bill and God has reminded us that His arm is not too short.

The arm of God is not too short.  It is so wide and powerful that He knows every part of the vast Universe .  His arm is wide enough to climb the tallest mountain,  leap over the oceans, and yet still find each hurting heart right where they are at.  God’s arm proved to be just the right length too as Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, spread His arms on the cross to do the impossible.  He took sinful man and God back together again!

May you be encouraged today in whatever you face.  God’s arm is not too short for whatever you face today.

Life Through Eyes of Faith

Surprise!  If only they were all such nice surprises!
Surprise! If only they were all such nice surprises!

As expected, unexpected things happen.  Sometimes they are a lot of fun like all of those videos of parents surprising their children with trips to Disney World.  Other times they are heartbreaking like a child getting diagnosed with cancer.   Still others shake the very core of who we are.  Why would they hurt innocent children?  Why would the person that loved you all those years leave it all for a stranger?  Words fail to make sense of it at times.

Truthfully with life’s unexpected circumstances come many challenges to our faith.  Events have a way of clarifying what it is that we believe in.  God meets us in the midst of these things not to make it all go away, but rather to help us see through eyes of faith.  Eyes of faith remind us that there is hope in a future beyond any circumstances that disrupt our lives now.   Eyes of faith see this place as only a temporary home where our longing only increases for our home for eternity and being with our Savior.   Faith recognizes that God is fulfilling His plan and it is a plan that will be accomplished.  We know that for a fact.  What we don’t know is when it will be completed.  In other words, the work God is doing might not be completed until after you are out of the picture.   That does not mean God is not at work.

My 5-year-old son randomly brought up the shooting in Connecticut the other day.  He said, “I am just sad that someone shot kids.  Why would he do that?”  Great question!  It is a question that pundits have tried to figure out for the last month.  He goes on to say, “what if I was in that classroom and I was too young to die?”  It is a sad testimony to our world that I must have these discussions with my 5-year-old.  But does that mean God is not at work in it all?  Absolutely not!    God will perfectly weave it all together as it fits into His redemptive plan for His people.  Will we see it all completed?  I don’t know.   My faith is in the eternal God not the temporary circumstances.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the earth.” – Hebrews 11: 13

A Bible pulled from the rubble of our church-- reminds us of God's faithfulness
A Bible pulled from the rubble of our church– reminds us of God’s faithfulness

We live by faith in a God who always keeps His promises.  We live that way despite the circumstances before us knowing that our days are numbered and our residency is not here but in heaven.  Don’t let circumstances define how you view God, but let your God speak into your circumstances with words of hope and purpose.  When you do that you will be able to face all of life trough eyes of faith.

Run To The Cross Today

There is no limit to what God can do because God has no limits.  He is God.  I find that to be encouraging when I see such depravity in our world.   It is encouraging to note that things have always been that way.  Take John 5, as an example of that.   It was a scene of despair, hopelessness and loneliness.   It was a scene around a pool of water where all those who were physically disabled gathered.  It would likely have been a place most people avoided. Yet, Jesus goes and meets a man who is in a place of despair and ministers to him physically and spiritually.

That is incredibly encouraging to think about.  God does not wait for us to come to Him; He comes to us.  That is the message of the cross.  This is what we celebrate every day of our lives.

I thought today might be a day to encourage people when all we see is violence in the world.  And while you might not be in as rough of shape as the man who was an invalid for 38 years in John 5, you might still be in a tough spot.  Without Jesus Christ we are all spiritually dead and without hope.  The only way we are made alive is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is more than just the giver of gifts, He is the gift Himself.

Today I simply want to encourage anyone who might stop by to run daily to the cross, including today.  That is the only way any of the chaos makes sense and the only way we are able to overcome sin.