But it happened to me . . .

The act of forgiveness mostly benefits the one doing the forgiving. However, getting to the place of forgiveness in real life can be a long and sometime arduous journey. When I’m hurt, I often want the other to hurt as much if not more than I did. Yet, if I hang on to the hurt, I discover that it has a way of rotting within me then festering into anger, resentment, and hate.

Only an act of forgiving the other can release me. Should I chose not to let loose of my pain through forgiveness, I find that I am the one in increasing pain, while the other seems to live life as if nothing ever happened.

Lewis Smede, several years ago in a book called The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive but Don’t Know How (1997) explored the nature of forgiveness. In his book he looked at the several levels at which we experience the hurt of offence or betrayal.

For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic, we are usually offended, but because this was an anonymous stranger (usually), we quickly let it go and move on with life. Such cases rarely involved the need for forgiveness.

However, if a stranger assaults us, we may find that this hurt is so great or so personal, that we will struggle with finding the place of forgiveness for this stranger because what happened us is deeper, more personal.

More likely, forgiveness is in order when there is a personal relationship—when someone hurts us who should have known better.

Sometimes, this is a very personal matter in that the person hurt us directly but sometime it is more indirect, such as when a person in a position of power and responsibility—who is suppose to protect me or at least act in my best interest—hurts another. In this kind of loss, there is the loss of innocence and trust that is hard to measure. The pain is real and it is as if it happened to me.

So why be concerned about issues of forgiveness? After all, the people who hurt others don’t deserve to be forgiven. Yet, as we noted above, “unforgiveness” binds the one that holds the grudge inside.

Yet, there is a deeper reason to forgive: it is the way of Jesus. The one who was betrayed, insulted, assaulted, and blasphemed in the worse possible way, still prayed, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Because of Jesus, we now have the power to forgive because he has forgiven us—freely, fully, and forever.

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The Quest for Church Health

A perfectly healthy church is an ideal that will not be realized this side of heaven. However, a church can choose to participate with God in becoming more whole and complete. Accordingly, no matter where a church is now, that church can make a commitment to allow God to heal it, to love it, and to lead it to becoming more like Jesus.

Family therapists know they cannot help a family if no one in the family is committed to getting well. Likewise, a church will only become healthier if a critical mass of the members is committed to the journey.

Along this journey to deeper health, it may be helpful to have some signposts and markers for what a healthy family looks like, and, correspondingly, this would be true of healthy churches. According to Curran, Traits of a Healthy Family (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1983; adapted slightly), a healthy family will:

  1. Communicate and listen to each other
  2. Affirm and support one another
  3. Teach respect for others
  4. Develop trust
  5. Have a sense of play and humor
  6. Exhibit a sense of shared responsibility
  7. Value a sense of right and wrong
  8. Have a strong sense of “family”
  9. Have a balance of interaction among the members
  10. Have a shared religious/spiritual core
  11. Will respect the privacy of one another
  12. Foster family table time and conversation
  13. Share leisure time together
  14. Admit to and seek help with problems

While no church is perfect, any church family can become better at expressing the above values. However, this will require intentionality and effort from everyone.

David: Anointed for God’s Mission

David is one of the most beloved characters in the Bible and that is as it should be, since his name in Hebrew is “beloved.” While David is a heroic character, his life began in a rather lackluster way: he was the youngest child in a family of shepherds.

When the prophet Samuel came to anoint David as the next king of Israel, David did not know he was suppose to be at the meeting. Samuel looked over seven of David’s older brothers. God chose none of them.

Finally, the prophet asked if there were any other sons, and there was, but he was only a boy and he was in the field taking care of sheep. Once David arrived, Samuel anointed him with oil.

This practice of anointing grew out of the practice of anointing a priest on his new appointment. Samuel continued this practice as a way to appoint kings. A more important association: to be anointed with oil became a way of participating with God in anointing the new king with God’s Holy Spirit (See 1 Samuel 16:13).

God’s Spirit empowered David his whole life, but God’s presence did not exempt him from the hard realities of living. David would spend his early years as the anointed king running from his previous mentor and current king Saul. Once David became king, it would take him years to consolidate his kingdom. David’s life was full of challenges with the women he loved, the children he had, and political enemies both within and without.

Out of these lived realities come many of the most moving psalms in the Bible.

Yet none of these ongoing challenges could separate David from the love of God. However, his own action nearly did. One day, when he should have been leading, he saw her. He called for her. He slept with her. He killed her husband to cover his own sin. It felt as if God had left him.

During this time he wrote, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

There are certainly times in our life when we need to pray for the same.

Deborah: A Mother on God’s Mission

Against the myth that God only wants men in leadership roles stands the story of Deborah, the prophetess-judge-leader of ancient Israel. Some interpreters will assert that the story of Deborah is a criticism of men who would not rise to the occasion. This is partially true. When Barak refuses to go to the battlefield without Deborah, she declares that the victory will belong to a woman (Judges 4:8-10)—but Deborah does not get this honor. Still, to see the whole story as a mere critique of weak-willed men misses the respect the biblical narrator—and even Barak—had for Deborah.

Before being a “judge,” Deborah was a prophetess, a role which meant she was a preacher and teacher. To get this recognition, Deborah would have had to show that God had truly called her (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:17-22 for some of the tests). In addition to her full-time job, she was a wife (4.4) and mother (5.7).

The English translation of “judge” does not do justice to the role; she did far more than just hold court. The NIV is correct in saying she “was leading” Israel, as that is really what “judging” implies in the Book of Judges. Judging, therefore, involved both settling disputes among the people (4.5) but also commanding military leaders into action (4.6-7). There is no doubt that Deborah is Barak’s superior officer.

For example, Deborah will send Barak into the battle while remaining behind to observe the action (4.14)—the traditional posture of a supreme commander, like a king.

The narrator of Judges has preserved for us the victory song known as the “Song of Deborah” (chapter 5). This is a military poem from a woman’s point of view: Deborah is praised for her leadership, Jael, who killed the enemy commander Sisera, for her ingenuity and bravery, and even Sisera’s mother is remembered because her son will not be coming home.

If God so called a woman to serve him as Deborah did under the old covenant, how much more, then, will God use women under the new covenant where now there is neither “male nor female” (Gal 3:28)! Deborah’s story is a good place to acknowledge that God’s Mission is larger than our stereotypes.

Transparency: Being Truthful before God

I have been reminded this past week that telling the truth can be hard. I am not just talking about confessing bold sins, but about the way we humans lie to ourselves and others about the little things leading up to the announcement of the bold sins. These more subtle mis-truths set the stage for the curtain to fall.

Now we also lie by what we do not say. The failure to confront is participating in the sin of others. This “fear” of confrontation is one of Satan’s best tools for keeping us from becoming transparent before God. When we get to the point where we cannot speak into each other lives because we are afraid of the possible reaction, we have succumbed to the Evil One–we are working for him.

What we need is a new sense of “transparency.” Even the secular leadership world is giving attention to the need for a new level of honesty among leaders. Warren Bennis, a well-established leadership expert, recently co-authored a book called Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor. When these authors define transparency or candor, they mean that organizations should have a free flow of information among the members of the organization and even the public.

Now if the business world knows the value of being open and honest, how much more should the church of God who has been admonished to stop lying to one another (Col. 3.9) and to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4.15). God calls us to have nothing to do with “fruitless deeds of darkness” but rather to expose them (Eph. 5.11).

Bennis makes it clear in his book that creating an environment where people are free to speak the truth begins with the leaders in the organization. If the leadership will not hold themselves mutually accountable, transparency will never permeate the organization.

Without transparency, there will be no trust and, without trust, we cannot move forward in God’s mission.