Irrepressible Joy

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Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

In the 1990's my mom would call and let me know whenever a Billy Graham crusade was on TV. I was involved in ministry at the time so it wasn't that she was hoping I would become a follower of Jesus. I think she just thought I would enjoy it. I used to tease her that I wasn't going to watch it because Billy Graham always had the same message and I had already heard it. She really couldn't argue with that. I did hear Billy Graham speak at the Urbana Missions Conference one year and he was fantastic.

To this day, my mom also sends me her copy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Decision magazine when she's done with it. I usually give it a read and find that same old message still comes through loud and clear. I was reading an article on author Bodie Theone when I cam across a phrase that caught my attention. "Like her mother, Bodie's irrepressible joy began testifying to God's power, goodness and love."

What a witness to strive for. As that phrase rotated around my brain I got to thinking that a witness like that is something we can strive for no matter what situation we find ourselves in. I recently was talking with an individual who is very concerned about the direction our country is headed. In that type of situation it is easy to become discouraged and grim. But I think that even under the worst political oppression imaginable we can still be people of irrepressible joy, testifying to God's power, goodness, and love.


A Final Thought on Forgiveness

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As all other living humans I breathe, most of the time. I mean, I try not to breathe if I am underwater or if something or someone just stunk up the room. But most of the time I breathe, regularly and steadily without even thinking much about it. It is required for life.

Some people get excited about breathing, like a yoga instructor or fitness guru. I suppose there have been times in my life when breathing felt really good. Taking a nice deep breath of fresh air after you have been cooped up in a closed room feels great. I also have appreciated those first breaths of air after having the wind knocked out of me. But overall, breathing is simply a part of life that keeps me alive.

Sometimes we promise too much when it comes to forgiveness. I've read articles about how it will completely change your life when you learn to forgive. It leads one to believe that if I forgive someone I will be caught up in this rapturous moment of joy and will feel like all is now right with the world. I'm not sure forgiving someone is usually like that.

Forgiveness is important, just like breathing. It plays a vital role in our well being, just like breathing. It works in complex and interrelated ways within us, just like breathing. And just like breathing it often doesn't have the noticeable euphoric effect that some people claim it does. Go without it though, and you are sure to notice.

Okay, so the analogy is severely flawed. My point is that we can over-promise how forgiving will make us feel. We tend to give the impression that it will bring joy and happiness into our world and fix everything. The truth is that sometimes forgiving may actually hurt a little, or at least not have much of an impact on our overall happiness. Yet it is still vital for life.


Forgiveness

Posted by: Tom, 1 comments

I have a person in my church who was abused as a kid by a neighbor and they will say, "I am not consumed by hate for that person and I don't wish them harm, but I could never forgive them." I completely understand that and I can only imagine the pain and hurt that was done. I'm actually very impressed that they can make that statement. But I have had a difficult time squaring the "never forgive" part with scripture. This morning it struck me that maybe our understanding of forgiveness is the problem.

I think it is fair to say that forgiveness is releasing another person from a debt that they owe us. Our usual narrative is that if someone does something to hurt us we want them to make amends for that somehow. At that point we will forgive them. However, if they make amends there is really nothing to forgive because they have repaid the debt. Forgiveness would be to release them (whether they are aware of my decision or not) from their debt without them having to pay anything back.

Maybe that is what this person in my congregation has done. Maybe they have forgiven their neighbor because they don't want or expect that person to repay them for the harm they have done. However, when they say they will never forgive them maybe they are really saying they won't forget because they know they need to keep a boundary there so that they will not be abused again.

The problem then is what to do about forgetting. The book of Hebrews twice quotes Jeremiah, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" which is where we get the idea of "forgive and forget." My first thought is that forgiving and forgetting are two separate things so when we are called to forgive we are not necessarily called to forget. I am not even close to being competent in Greek but Strongs gives one definition for the word "remember no more" as "to bear in mind, that is, recollect, by implication to reward or punish." So maybe the forgetting is a promise not to bring that debt up again for repayment once it has been forgiven.

I got to thinking that maybe we bundle too much into forgiveness and make it a lot harder to wrestle with emotionally than we should. First, we need to understand that forgiveness is releasing a person of a debt they owe to us. Forgiveness is NOT making up with someone after they have repaid a debt they owe to us. And forgetting their debt means that we will not change our minds and ask them to repay it at some later date. Forgetting is NOT wiping it completely from our minds so that we relate to that person exactly as we did before with no boundaries in place.


Heavy Lifting

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About 25 years ago I was a student in a 7 month program at Auburn University in Alabama. Kim and I lived in a nice apartment about a block from campus and next to a large traditional church. We tried a few other churches in the area but ended up attending our next door neighbor. I call it a traditional church but what do I know. As a Yankee I found it interesting that very few people attended that weren't dressed up in what appeared to be their best. Males wore suits and ties and females wore dresses and fancy hats. We did the same thing every week with hymns, prayers, and a 15 - 20 minute sermon.

The pastor had two passions in life; Jesus and weightlifting. And I don't think a Sunday went by that we didn't hear about both. If he was talking about setting goals you can be sure he would talk about a weightlifting goal he had set, along with the struggle to achieve it. If he wanted to stress support for one another he would put on his weightlifting belt and show us how it helped him lift weights. His sermons never got very deep but he always talked about how wonderful Jesus was and he backed it up with an illustration from weightlifting.

I liked him. I know all of us pastors probably overuse illustrations from our lives but somehow it made this guy seem genuine. He never tried to be someone he wasn't. He stuck with what he knew and that was Jesus and weightlifting. Even though I am sure there were others like me who were timing his sermons to see how long it would be before he mentioned weightlifting, I think it also gave us a sense of reliability and permanence. That's kind of good to know in a chaotic world.

I think most pastors realize, after they have been preaching for a while, that there is a long term effect we have on the people who listen to us. It is not just the message we preach week to week but also the message we deliver over the long haul. I noticed this when I started hearing words and phrases that I use regularly become part of the vocabulary of people in my church. Pastors need to pay attention to the overall message they are delivering over the long haul.


10 Year Anniversary

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Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

On January 16, 2003 I started this blog. Ten years sounds like a long time and occasionally I see someone write a post their 10 year blogging anniversary. It sounds impressive since most folks now days can't seem to even stay married that long. And it is impressive for most of the bloggers who stay with it for that long. It takes discipline and dedication to output that much drivel. But I'm not one of those guys. My 10 years is only a testament to a computer server somewhere in the world that hasn't exploded yet and lost my blog forever.

Over 10 years I've racked up a little over 400 posts. That averages out to 40 posts a year, or less than one a week. And that isn't even the worst of it. There where a few years I averaged more than that which makes up for a majority of really thin years. Every now and then I think I'm going to take it seriously again but it never lasts. There have even been a few years when I have had to do some work to even find the backend of the blog so I could post again. (I should write names and passwords down on paper.)

The biggest reason I don't write more is because I don't like a lot of what I have written. There was a time when I slowed way down because people actually read this blog and some people got mad about what I wrote. It is not that I disagree with most of what I have written, it's that I am tired of what I created. I am good at creating criticism but I want to be good at creating beauty.


Crucified

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When Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ..." he was talking about the crucifixion of his old life and not his suffering. Yet Paul suffered greatly and I imagine there were many times he felt crucified. Maybe that is not a bad way to think of it as we try to be imitators of Christ.

I have a friend who I think has been crucified. That comparison gives hope in light of the resurrection. After some dark days there is new life. I think that is a good thought when going through suffering. New life is just around the corner.

The harder part for me is reflecting on how Jesus responded to the people who crucified him. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Okay, so I have a hard time with that. They are adults so they should be responsible to know what they are doing. But Jesus' response is profoundly good.


 
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I'm Tom. I have a wonderful wife, 4 kids, a dog, and a cat. What more could a guy want.

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