Monday

Unpacking Forgiveness: Should I Just Get Over It?

"Just get over it."

Has anyone said that to you? Depending on the circumstance, when someone says that to me I usually don't like it. It tells me that my opinion does not matter. It tells me that when I am trying to stand up for what I believe is right the other person could care less.

No one likes to feel as if they are not important, but aren't there times when "Just get over it" is the best advice we could receive?

When my three boys were little, they often nitpicked at each other and squabbled over issues. Serving as judge and jury (a trial to the court, if you please) I would hear each side and then attempt to mete out justice. This worked well most days, but there were times when the argument would continue despite my best efforts. On these days I would end up yelling "ENOUGH!" over the noise. It would grow silent and then the 'buts' would start:

"Yeah, but he did ..."

"But, Mom, he ..."

"Enough!" I would exclaim again. "I don't want to hear anymore. You guys just need to forgive each other and go on. And, if you can't get along, perhaps you need to clean your room until you can."

That usually fixed the problem. They would suddenly remember how much they liked each other and begin playing again.

In his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers to Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, author Chris Brauns writes, "Can you think of a time in your marriage or friendships that you blew something up when you should have let it go? This brings us to an important truth: we do not need to formally resolve every conflict that takes place. Some offenses need to be dropped."

I think we can all answer "yes" to the question about blowing things up. Knowing when to drop an issue takes a certain degree of discernment. I have found that this discernment is just not available when I am holding a grudge or if I refuse to think that the other person may be right, or at least partially right. Therefore, I must continually allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate a spirit of humility in me.

"Each time you are offended, you need to wisely decide whether or not you need to bring it up. Only you can make that decision," Brauns writes.

Brauns provided several "diagnostic questions" to ask ourselves when a problem arises:

1. Before confronting, ask, "Have I examined myself yet?"
2. Before confronting, ask, "How sure am I that I am right?"
3. Before confronting, ask, "How important is this?"
4. Before confronting, ask, "Does this person show a pattern of this kind of behavior?"
5. Before confronting, ask, "What do wise people counsel me to do?"
6. Before confronting, ask, "What else is going on in the other person's world?"

I won't provide Brauns' full explanations. I just want to provide a framework for your information. I really suggest you obtain the book in order to study further (your local library should be able to get for you) because Brauns has good practical advice for everyday issues. What it all boils down to is whether or not we let love cover over offenses, or should we confront in order to get it off our chest. The thing to remember is that whatever you decide, love should be at the heart of what you do. If you choose not to confront, don't talk about what a slimeball the person is to everyone else. If you can't let it go, talk to the person. If someone comes to you with a problem, offer to help him or her talk to the offender, Brauns writes. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in gossip. That will just make the problem worse.

On Thursday we'll discuss how you can go about confronting people. See you then.



Thursday

A delay in the Unpacking Forgiveness series

With the Christmas holiday this week and relatives still visiting, I will not be able to post today's installment of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers to Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. I apologize for this; however, I should be able to post today's chapter on Monday so that we can get back on schedule by Thursday.

In case you would like to review here are the links to all of the previous posts:

Forgiving from a Distance ...

Unpacking Forgiveness: How to Start

Motivation to Unpack

Defining Forgiveness

A Definition for Christians

More than a Feeling

The Way Up is Down

Unpacking Forgiveness: Unpack with Great Urgency

Wednesday

Joy in the ordinary

It's the day after Christmas! I hope you all had a wonderful Advent season and are excited that the Lord will come again one day - not as a baby but as a triumphant king who will make everything right.

How was your Christmas Day? I must say that ours was quite happy - the best one in years, according to my husband and I agree. There was nothing unusual about it. We had everyone over on Christmas Eve, ate delicious food and unwrapped gifts. On Christmas morning we all slept in a bit (that's the beauty of having teenagers), got up, unwrapped gifts, ate more delicious food and lazed around the rest of the day. It had  snowed overnight as well so we had a beautiful white Christmas.

It was all rather ordinary. In fact, celebrating Christmas is an ordinary annual occasion.

Christmas always makes me think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was an ordinary girl living in a typical farming community in the Roman Empire. She and her community worked hard to stay alive. They were all poor, yet they had a rich heritage with the promise of a coming king who would end all of their strife.


One day Mary's life turned upside down. An angel visited and told her a marvelous thing. She would bear the long-awaited king - the Messiah. Now her life was anything but ordinary. Her obedience led her on a great adventure marked by delicious joy, wonder, grief, sorrow and peace that passed her understanding. However, she still led an ordinary life by everyone's standards. She didn't leave her culture, nor was she escalated into a life of luxury and ease just because she carried God's son. If anything, for the first two years at least, it was the exact opposite. Once everything calmed down, however, she and Joseph settled down to an ordinary life. She was a mother. She was a wife. She raised her children and the family worked hard to survive like so many of us.

The ordinariness of Mary's life adds wonder to the Christmas story. It brings full meaning to the term Emmanuel, which means "God with us." If God had come to Herod's family, or some other aristocratic clan, rather than living among the people who worked for their survival, the story would lose its wonder. Knowing that the God of the Universe placed his son in the midst of regular people lets me know that God truly understands us. God knows how hard we work. He has done it too. God knows temptation, boredom, sickness, death, joy, laughter, compassion, sorrow. God rejoices in and chooses to work in the ordinariness of life.  He chooses ordinary people through whom to accomplish his purposes here on earth.

It is because of God's presence that we experience joy. Even in our most ordinary times, his presence can add a sense of wonder to everything we experience. His presence somehow makes the hard times endurable.


On Christmas afternoon Mike and I decided to take a walk. Our neighborhood is located in a farming community so there are empty fields to the south of us. As we walked by one of these fields we noticed that there were hundreds of Canada geese on the ground with more circling overhead so that they too could settle down. It was an awesome sight! Mike and I stood still watching them fly in descending circles for a little while and finally land. Then, as soon as they got comfortable a car driving on the road next to the field frightened them. They were in the air again madly honking. I couldn't help but laugh. That car wasn't going to drive into the field and mow them down, but they didn't know that.

It was all so ordinary, but it was beautiful.

The delicious joy and deep peace I felt made it beautiful. Mike and I talked about how good the day was this morning and wondered what had made the difference. Now, as I reflect, I am sure, that it was a direct result of concentrating on the Advent readings and adding tangible elements to our celebration. By doing so it appears that we invited the presence of God to flow through our festivities and add wonder to the ordinary celebration of Christmas.

This is true for every day we live. God's presence adds joy to life. How can we bring that presence in to the ordinary everyday flow? How can we maintain that joy despite circumstance? It's something to consider.

Friday

God and Art Series: Christmas trees

No one is sure just when the Christmas tree came into the picture. It originated in Germany. The 8th century English missionary, St. Boniface, Apostle to Germany, is supposed to have held up the evergreen as a symbol of the everlasting Christ. By the end of the sixteenth century, Christmas trees were common in Germany. Some say Luther cut the first, took it home, and decked it with candles to represent the stars. When the German court came to England, the Christmas tree came with them.

Source: Christianity.com

In America, many people still put up real evergreens in their houses for Christmas. Others put up artificial trees because of allergies to real trees or because it saves on cost or reduces fire hazards. This year, some are putting a different spin on the old-fashioned tree. In celebration of Christmas, I made a treasury on Etsy called Oh, Christmas Tree. For this blog post I chose some of the artists from the treasury who use recycled materials for their item. It's fun to see what people are doing with everyday objects.

Enjoy!


AnthologyOnMain


artinredwagons


cardboardchristmas


AtelierboisdAme


idreamingreen


1molly01


cupcakegangster


Thursday

Unpacking Forgiveness: Unpack with Great Urgency



 Mike and the Mechanics - "The Living Years"

What would you do if you knew tomorrow was your last day on earth?

It's ironic that tomorrow is December 21- the last day of earth's existence, according to the people interpreting the Mayan calendar. It doesn't worry me at all as I am not buying into that, but what if it were true and you knew that tomorrow was actually the last day ever? What would you do?

Or, what if you had a terminal illness or someone you knew had one. As the end drew near what would be your priority?

I remember back in the 80s when as a teenager I would go to summer camp or a revival. The altars would be lined with people my age who were scared to death of Christ returning before we had a chance to make it right with someone whom we had offended or vice versa.

As an adult, I must admit that I have lost that urgency.

Why? Because reconciliation takes time. And, it is not easy.

However, in his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds,  author Chris Brauns reminds us that unpacking forgiveness is an urgent matter.

Consider this scripture:

Matthew 18:5-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.10 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

Jesus is pretty emphatic that making someone stumble is sinful.  Quite frankly, his words scare me. 

"If we don't work through conflicts immediately, there is a possibility we may cause others to stumble, and that is a responsibility we do not want to shoulder; better to gouge out our eyes, cut off our hands, or tie an anchor to our ankles and pitch it over the side of the boat than do that," Brauns writes. 

Jesus, the master of metaphor, used graphic examples to illustrate the passion we should have for following God's word. However, rather than actually cutting off our limbs, scooping out our eyes, and so on, I believe that he wants us to exuberantly follow his directions as if we would rather gouge out one of our eyes than cause someone to stumble. 

Conflict between people is never just between those who are directly involved. Conflict can cause other people to stumble.

Can you think of a time when a disagreement between you and someone else negatively affected the people around you? What did you do about it? If you haven't done anything, what will you do?

Brauns concludes: "In Matthew 18: 4 - 14 Jesus taught that we must work out differences with the greatest sense of urgency. Christians should take drastic measures to avoid causing another brother or sister to walk away from the faith. We should love one another with the same level of risk-taking urgency that we would demonstrate in the face of some great crisis. There will probably be a time when you are called to resolve a situation even though you don't feel you can handle it perfectly. Do it. Be urgent. Those who are willing to continue conflicts even at the expense of a negative impact on others should fear for their souls." 

This is definitely something to seriously consider. Next week, we will discuss chapter 8, "Should I Just Get Over It?"


Tuesday

Advent emphasizes our need for Jesus

As we lit three candles on the third Sunday of Advent, our family prayed:

God of hope, you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing.

Make us strong to join you in your holy work, as friends of strangers and victims, companions of those whom others shun, and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.

We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Brothers and sisters, as we joyfully await the glorious coming of the Christ, let us pray for the needs of the church, our community, and the world.

God of joy and exultation,
you strengthen what is weak;
you enrich the poor
and give hope to those who live in fear.
Look upon our needs this day.
Make us grateful for the good news of salvation
and keep us faithful in your service
until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives for ever and ever. Amen.
 

O God of the exiles and the lost,
you promise restoration and wholeness
through the power of Jesus Christ.
Give us faith to live joyfully,
sustained by your promises
as we eagerly await the day when they will be fulfilled
for all the world to see,
through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Advent emphasizes our need for Jesus.

As I read through this prayer, the phrase "whose hearts are broken", instantly brought to mind a sign written by the people who had lost their children in the Connecticut school shooting.

It said: "Our hearts are broken."

Indeed. Our hearts are too. Why these things happen is a mystery to me. My religious training answers that question for me - We live in a sin-cursed world, bad things are going to happen. This is true; however, this knowledge does not keep tears from coming to my eyes when I think of this tragedy. It does not stop the questions. I still look to God and ask why.

It was Jesus, after all, who said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

I do not know why bad things happen. I do not know why people shoot children. I do not know why there are mentally ill people who do not receive the professional care they need. What I do know is that these things happen because of our desperate state in a world cursed by sin. It wasn't meant to be this way, but God in his loving wisdom allowed us to have free will and we have abused it. 

What all of this emphasizes - Advent, the school shootings and everything else that is happening in the world - is that people are in desperate need of a savior. We need Jesus. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that it's my religion or else. If you are sincerely seeking truth, you will find Truth if you search with all your heart.

What I'm saying is that our world is in such bad shape. We need to trust the one who can heal our hearts and souls.

Another part of the Advent prayer says:

O God of the exiles and the lost,

you promise restoration and wholeness

through the power of Jesus Christ.

No other god can do this. No other god cares about us that much.

That is what Advent is about. The great God, maker of the universe, came to earth as a baby. He was born to poor parents in a stable. He learned to live as we live. He experienced everything we go through. He was born, he lived, he died. He rose again. He beat death into submission and he fills our hearts when we let him in. He heals the ravages that sin has created in our lives and loves us like crazy. He is also returning someday to set things straight.

This knowledge gives me hope. It is my prayer that you have hope as well.



Monday

The Parable of the Shopper

I thought you might enjoy this story I found on Bible Gateway:

The Parable of the Shopper

Author unknown

My feet were tired, my hands cold, my arms exhausted from the weight of the packages, and it was beginning to snow. The bus was late. I kept rearranging my packages, trying to hold them in a different way in order to give my poor arms a rest. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday, and yet fifteen years have gone by. Nevertheless, when Christmas rolls around, I remember that day on the bus.

I was tired. I had been Christmas shopping all day long. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed with holiday shoppers in the same exhausted mood as I. I sank into the only vacant place, near the back, by a handsome gentleman. He politely helped me to situate my packages and even held some of them himself.

“My goodness," he said, "did you leave any merchandise still in the stores for the rest of us?"

"I don’t think so," I moaned. "Worst of all, I still haven’t made all of my purchases."

The woman in the seat behind us joined in my grief and added, "No, the worst thing is that the day after Christmas we will be carrying this same armload back to the store to exchange it."

Her comment brought a general chuckle from all those within earshot, including my seat mate. As the laughter subsided, he began in a quiet, melodious voice, deepened with experience, to teach me a lesson that I have never forgotten:

"Hear now the parable of the shopper," he said, speaking gently and indicating my packages. "A woman went forth to shop, and as she shopped, she carefully planned. Each child’s desires were considered. The hard-earned money was divided, and the many purchases were made with the pure joy and delight that is known only to the giver. Then the gifts were wrapped and placed lovingly under the tree. In eager anticipation she scanned each face as the gifts were opened."

"'What a lovely sweater,' said the eldest daughter, 'but I think I would prefer blue. I suppose I can exchange it?'

"'Thank you for the cassette player, Mother. It’s just what I wanted,' said her son. And then aside, secretly to his sister, he continued, 'I told her I wanted the one with the automatic reverse and an extra speaker. I never get what I want!'

"The youngest child spoke out with the spoiled honesty of her age, 'I hate rag dolls! I wanted a china doll. I won't play with it!' And the doll, still in the box, was kicked under the couch."

"One gift still lay under the tree. The woman pointed it out to her husband. 'Your gift is still there.'

"'I'll open it when I have the time,' he stated. 'I want to get this bike put together first.'

"How sad it is," continued his soft, beautiful voice. "When gifts are not received in the same spirit they are given. To reject a thoughtful gift is to reject the loving sentiment of the giver himself. And yet, are we not all sometimes guilty of rejecting?"

He was talking not only to me, but to all of those on the bus. They had all gathered around. The bus was parked.

He took a present from my stack.

"This one," he said, holding it up and pretending to open the card, "could be to you." He pointed to a rough-looking, teenage boy in a worn denim jacket and pretended to read the gift card. "To you I give My life, lived perfectly, as an example so that you might see the pattern and live worthy to return and live with Me again. Merry Christmas from the Messiah."

"This one," he said, holding up a pure, white present, "is for you." He held out the gift to a worn-looking woman, who in earlier years must have been a real beauty. She read the card out loud and allowed her tears to slip without shame down her painted face. "My gift to you is repentance. This Christmas I wish you to know for certain that though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Signed, your Advocate with the Father."

"That isn’t all. No, here is a big, red package." he looked around the group and brought a ragged, unkempt, little child forward. "This package would be for you if He were here. The card would say, 'On this Christmas and always, My gift to you is love. From your brother, Jesus.'"

"One final gift," said my seat mate. "The greatest of all the gifts of God--Eternal life!"

He held our minds and our hearts. We were a hungry audience. Though our shopping had left us drained, now we were being filled by his words.

"How we receive these gifts, these precious gifts from the Babe of Bethlehem, is the telling point. Are we exchangers?" he asked. "Is there really anything else we would rather have? It is what we do with a gift long after we have opened it that shows our true appreciation."

With those words he was gone. That was fifteen years ago, only a wink in time. But not even an eternity could erase the sermon, or the man.









Friday

God and Art Series: Artist seeks to bring positive message

aloquin
Today we are talking with Jen Morrison from Aloquin, a shop on Etsy. You can also find Jennifer on her blog aloquin.

Tell us a little about yourself and your artwork. When and how did you start developing your artistic-self?


I believe artistic development is an ongoing process. We are always inspired by different things we see, and bits and pieces inevitably work their way into our art.

As far as beginning, I was drawing ever since I can remember. It was just something I always loved to do, and even got in trouble in school for doodles all over my desk and inside my math book. It seemed only natural to follow my passion.
aloquin

Have you received any awards or other achievements? Where can people find your work? What teams do you belong to and how did you come up with the name for your shop?

How I came up with my shop name is rather funny. The first job I ever had was at 16, when I worked in the snack shack of the local animal farm petting zoo. I was bored waiting for customers, so I'd brought along paper to write or doodle on, and I was trying to think of interesting words for a pen name for myself. Somehow I got to looking at the back of the packages of food items in the snack shack, and I came across either the word "Aloquin" or a created it from a combination of ingredients on something. Either way, I liked how it sounded, and it's stuck with me ever since.
aloquin

I've won some awards, yes. In High School I won the LILCO - the Energy Wise on Long Island Poster Contest- that was very big for me. It was amazing because everyone was making a huge deal, and I was ecstatic because they were paying such attention to my art. I really felt I could do something in the world from that point on.

This past month of October my entry was chosen for inclusion in the Embracing Our Differences Art Exhibition 2012. This was a very humbling experience because I realized what an important event I was honored to be a part of. All the artists who were chosen got to attend and be recognized at an appreciation celebration, and I earned a beautiful plaque, but more importantly, I was able to use my art to help spread a positive message.
aloquin

What attracts you to drawing illustrations, work with paper (have I missed anything)? How do you gain inspiration for your work?

I suppose the most significant inspiration for my work is the emotion evoked by music. I will listen to songs, and the lyrics will just MOVE me, and I must create in that moment. I will immediately have to start drawing or externalizing my creativeness onto some substrate. My work doesn't become a physical representation of the lyrics I hear, but is more a result of how I feel while listening to the song. I have been creating a lot in Mixed Media lately... it is a freeing and wonderful form of expression.

How have the events of your life affected your art? How has art affected your life?

I have always been drawn (no pun intended) to illustrative work. I enjoy creating ACEOs (Art Cards, Editions, and Originals), working in my art journal, and, more recently, larger canvases/backgrounds. It has simply always been something I've loved to do ... even now, if I go somewhere, I must have a book or paper with me to doodle/create upon if I end up waiting. I can't imagine what my life might have been like if I'd not had my art ...
aloquin

Art has affected my life in the fact that it IS me. I am never not working on something or other. It's as me as eating or breathing ... seriously. I am so grateful to God for giving me this gift. I am inspired by such stories as that of Joni Eareckson [Tada], that I heard of when I was little ... she was paralyzed but still created paintings with the paintbrush manipulated by her mouth. I think that's beautiful!

When did you begin your relationship with God and how? How has your relationship with God affected your art? How has art affected your relationship to God?


aloquin
I am happy to say that, growing up, in a family of born-again believers, I've always had a relationship with God. I remember being passionate about God's love even at age five. I was in the backyard, intent on digging a hole down to the devil so I could witness to him! I was convinced that if he only knew how much God loved him, then he would stop being bad! LOL ... rather naive in retrospect, but not really ... the ideal was sincere, and very real. So many people are caught up in their sinful lifestyles because they just don't know the love of God. I understood at only five years old that we are called to be his light and be used by him to show his love.

How has art affected my relationship with God and vice versa leads into your next question:

Any future goals you'd like to share? Any encouragement for other artists?

My future goals? I believe that God has given me my talent for a reason, and I am open to direction from him for any way that I can use my art to glorify him. I feel my art will one day be used in a big way. I am not saying I'm exceptionally good as compared to others at art, I just feel that I am meant to do something for him with my art, and I am eager to find out what :)

We are eager to find out too, Jennifer. Thank you for visiting with us!


aloquin


Thursday

Unpacking Forgiveness: The Way Up is Down

Few people like conflict. Oh, there are some who seek it out and thrive on it, but generally speaking, most human beings would like a stress-free life with smooth, enjoyable relationships.

Sadly, that is far from reality.

Conflict in every day relationships is common. It seems we can't escape it. But why?

Consider two scriptures from Matthew 18:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

And,

 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[Or seventy times seven]23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Now compare the two stories. What trait would be present in a child that was not present in the servant who owed his master a lot of money?  

Humility. Does that surprise you or did you guess? 

In his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, author Chris Brauns writes that children in the ancient Middle East were expected to "be seen and not heard". They did not seek status. Children had a humble position in society. They knew their place.  

This is not to say that the followers of Christ are to not try to succeed or achieve greatness for the kingdom. This means that in light of God, our Father, we are to know our place. We are to remember who gave us everything we have.  "Jesus encouraged the disciples to pursue greatness," Brauns writes, "and the way he taught them to pursue it was by serving one another, by being truly humble."

How this fits with forgiveness is evident in the second passage of scripture. If the servant who owed his master that huge amount of money had been humble (and truly grateful, I might add), he would have cancelled the debt, or would have been more patient with other servant who owed him such a small amount. After receiving forgiveness for so much, you would think that the smaller amount would mean nothing.

"True humility nips conflict in the bud. In one way or another, selfish pride causes all quarrels and fights (James 4: 1 -10; Matthew 7: 1-5). Second, if we are truly humble, then when we do have conflicts, they will be resolved far more quickly," Brauns writes.

Do you remember the last conflict you had? Were you humble or not? How did that go?

Being humble is not easy for anyone. At the base of humility is the absence of pride, but pride can take many forms. The thing to remember is that pride "is not just an inflated opinion of oneself," Brauns writes. "Pride is any way of putting self into the central focus."

Wow. Or should I say "ouch"?  Brauns says that people who are overly critical, insecure, shy, sensitive, presumptuous, impatient with others shortcomings, easily embarrassed or those who worry a lot are examples of those who struggle with pride. All of these shortcomings, plus more overt displays of pride, can cause conflicts and can prevent the resolution of conflicts (p. 82).

No wonder we struggle so much. Often, in the church, displays of humilty are shown by calling ourselves "wretches" or saying that we are nothing. This does not follow the Biblical definition of humility because it puts the focus right back on ourselves.

Although pride is difficult to overcome, it is possible. I believe that if Jesus did not mean for us to overcome sin he would not have told us to do so, but we first must give the Holy Spirit control of our hearts. I also like what Brauns recommends in this chapter: "The only way to grow in humility truly is to take our eyes off ourselves and meditate on the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Brauns recommends reading and meditating upon Isaiah 40 as a way to help develop humilty. I also recommend the Psalms, any of the church canticles and Job 40 and 41.

"Biblical humility is increasingly seeing ourselves as completely dependent on God. It is serving others for God's glory. We achieve humility only by seeing and savoring Christ. The more we see Christ, the more we will be truly humble, the more conflicts we will avoid, and the more easily the ones we do encounter will be resolved," Brauns writes.

That is not bad advice.

Next week we will review chapter seven, "Unpack with Great Urgency."

Wednesday

Dealing with holiday stress

Christmas has always been a special time. During my childhood there were special art projects to do at school, yummy cookies to help decorate and eat, music programs, special church services, presents, fun with my cousins, and, of course, vacation from school. That's always a plus.

As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the drama that surrounded the Christmas season. I didn't notice it so much in college, but when I got married and moved away from home, I realized how hectic it could be, especially since we did not have money. Before that, I had never realized that Christmas could be such a pain between the ears.

It's a good thing that I did not realize the stress surrounding Christmas before adulthood. I credit my parents for that. It is because of this that I have sought an answer to bringing the fun and peace of the holidays back into my life.

This has not been easy at all. The stress of the holidays can make you crazy. For years, I have struggled under the belief that I had to do everything people wanted me to do, give gifts, baked goods and/or cards to relatives, friends and acquaintances; participate in every church activity and make my children happy to boot. It was a terrible burden - one that I did not really become aware of until a few years ago. I just thought that being dog tired and cranky was part of the holiday season for adults. Do you feel that way this time of year?

This year I've rebelled against all of that. I'm really tired of allowing the world's expectations of what makes a good holiday to hijack my celebration of Christ's birth. You'll recall that I wrote a post earlier this year about not shopping in stores on Black Friday. Later on this season, I realized that this decision was a culmination of many things that the Lord has taught me over the last few years in order to bring Christmas to my heart in a more refreshing way.

So far, it seems to be working. And, it's a shock.

So, what is the difference?

1. Our family bought an Advent wreath. This turned our focus upward. Every Sunday we've gathered around the candles and have prayed a prayer asking the Lord to come.

2. I'm praying the Advent liturgy of the church every day and night. This is not to say that I'm ultra pure because of this. I really need this to center my focus. This liturgy is found in the book of "Christian Prayer" on Amazon.

3. We did not shop in stores on Black Friday. What more terrible way to start off the Christmas season is there than fighting - sometimes quite literally - your fellow human beings at stores for senseless merchandise at ungodly hours of the day and night? Staying at home and making gifts and shopping online a little bit at normal hours made the start of the season much more relaxing.

4We have changed our idea of gifting. We are only buying gifts for people who are close to us. Everyone else gets a hearty Merry Christmas. We may send cards to far away friends and family who, again, are close, but for the others we can always greet them on Facebook.  One thing I need to do is spread out making homemade gifts throughout the year. I've got three crochet projects still in the yarn stage that I really want to get done by Christmas, but there's no pressure! That will have to change next season even though I am enjoying myself.

5. We are not participating in a lot of outside activities. In order for us to participate in an activity, such as a Christmas program, the activity has to involve our family members, preferably in home-centered activities. Many of our activities are in fact centered at home, and we are finding that this works out much better. We've had a tree decorating get together and we plan to decorate cookies as a family.

6. We are going to give cookies, or perhaps bread, to our neighbors. Although we live in a very small town, more of a village than a 'town,' we really don't know the people who live around us very well. Nonetheless, they are all good neighbors, and I want our family to do something nice for them to show that we appreciate this.

I hope my words have helped you today. Maybe you feel frazzled. Maybe you have some other suggestions that will help us this season. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Tuesday

Advent season emphasizes waiting

When I was a child, Christmas meant the birthday of Jesus, wonderful food, getting to see my cousins and, of course, gifts.

Do you remember what it was like as a child waiting for Christmas? It was almost excruciating. 

On Christmas Eve our family would get together, eat dinner, attend a Christmas service and then go to one of my aunts' houses. There we would unwrap gifts - we had a large family so we would draw names - and eat the delicacies that our mothers had prepared. Since my family lived a couple of hours away from everyone else, we would stay and spend Christmas morning with my Uncle Gary, Aunt Jeanne and my cousins Joy and Jamie. Since Jamie was so little, Joy and I would snuggle down under the covers in her room, talk for a bit and then as I was starting to drift off my younger cousin would start hearing things.

"Santa's on the roof," she would whisper loudly.

"What?" I asked, suddenly awake.

"I heard reindeer," she said.

We both became quiet and strained to hear the reindeer hooves on the roof.

"I don't hear anything," I said and rolled over. Again, as soon as I was about ready to dream of sugar plums like the children in "The Night Before Christmas," my cousin would shake me.

"I heard them this time," she said.

"No you didn't," I said.

"Yes, I did!"

Ignoring her, I rolled over and realized that the light in the living room was still on. I could hear our parents laughing and there were some clunking noises but the sound wasn't coming from the roof.

"Our parents are still awake," I said.

"What are they doing?" Joy said.

"I don't know," I replied, pushing back the covers. "But I gotta go to the bathroom."

We jumped out of bed in a flash and ran down the hall giggling. We ran into the bathroom and Joy slammed the door. When we came out, the figure of my aunt loomed before us.

"Why are you awake?" she asked.

"We had to go to the bathroom," Joy said innocently.

I noticed that it was really quiet out in the living room.

"Go back to bed," Aunt Jeanne said. "Otherwise Santa will not come."

That was all Joy needed. She ran down the hall and I followed, now feeling skeptical about the entire Santa Claus thing for the first time. I laid in the dark after that, listening to the clunking out in the living room, thinking about the Grand Deception. As I was about to drift off to sleep, Joy kicked me on the back of the legs.

"I can't go to sleep," she whispered.

"Try," I said. This time sleep did not escape me. The next thing I knew, it was morning and we were both awake before the crack of dawn. We had strict orders not to get up before 7 a.m. so we waited again.

There was a good "haul" that year. I received my first bicycle. It was definitely worth the wait. 

The Advent season emphasizes waiting. We are waiting for the Lord to return and we think about the Jews waiting for their Messiah all those years. There were literally thousands of years that passed between the promises of the Messiah and the actual coming of Jesus. Now more than 2,000 years have passed since Christ's ascension and promise to return to earth. We're still waiting. It's been a long time. Will the Lord still find us anticipating his coming like we did as children awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus?

Although the imminent arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is folklore that parents pass on to their children to add excitement to the season and to get their children to behave, the promise of Christ's return to earth is true. We believe this by faith and because of the witness of the people who walked with Jesus and heard his words firsthand. As we believe, our faith increases and we look forward to the time when Christ will come and make everything right with the world.

Here is the Advent prayer that our family prayed on the second Sunday:

Lord, our God, we praise you for your son, Jesus Christ, for he is Emmanuel, the hope of all people.
He is the wisdom that teaches and guides us.
He is the Savior of us all.

O Lord, let your blessing come upon us as we light the first and second candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ's promise of salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this in his holy name.

Amen
Waiting

We light a candle today, a small dim light against a world that often seems forbidding and dark. But we light it because we are a people of hope, a people whose faith is marked by an expectation that we should always be ready for the coming of the master. The joy and anticipation of this season is captured beautifully in the antiphons of hope from the monastic liturgies:

See! The ruler of the earth shall come, the Lord who will take from us the heavy burden of our exile.
The Lord will come soon, will not delay.
The Lord will make the darkest places bright.
We must capture that urgency today in the small flame of our candle. We light the candle because we know that the coming of Christ is tied to our building of the kingdom. Lighting the flame, feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, reconciling the divided, praying for the repentant, greeting the lonely and forgotten - all of these works hastens his coming.

 - Source unknown

May we eagerly await Christ's coming with the anticipation of a child. I pray that this Advent season will prepare you for a wondrous Christmas.

Thursday

Unpacking Forgiveness: More than a Feeling

Almost every summer during my childhood, I spent a week with my cousin. This cousin and her family are devout Christians so spiritual training was a priority in the home. Along with many other fond memories, I remember bedtime when my aunt would sit on the side of the bed, tuck us in and then my cousin and I would recite the Lord's Prayer. After this we would ask God to bless everyone we knew by name. It was quite the little prayer meeting, but reciting the Lord's Prayer at such a young age helped lay the foundation for learning to forgive.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ...We learned everything in the traditional King James back then.

As I said, this scripture laid the foundation for learning to forgive, so much so that when I began to suffer deeply-felt hurts in the junior high world, I didn't question my youth pastor when he advised me to forgive. I didn't want to go to hell, after all. And I wanted God to forgive me too. Part of that advice included going to the person who had hurt me to tell them how I felt. Though painful, this approach usually worked out so that the person apologized and we became friends again. I didn't like this process very much, but it seemed biblical to me so I did it.

This was in the mid-80s. About that time, according to author Chris Brauns in his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, a book called Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve by Lewis Smedes was published. "This book sold hundreds of thousands of copies," Brauns writes. "It is both representative of, and responsible for on some level, a great deal of wrong Christian thinking about forgiveness."

Brauns continues:

Smedes essentially defined forgiveness as ceasing to feel resentment or anger over an offense or perceived offense. The way he views it, forgiveness is a private strategy for defeating bitterness and hate. L. Gregory Jones summarized: '[According to Smedes,] forgiveness becomes a means of being 'healed' of your 'hate,' of which Smedes argues people have a right to be healed. Smedes internalizes and privatizes forgiveness by making it primarily an activity that goes on within individual persons' hearts and minds.

It's weird. I remember this shift. I don't recall exactly when it happened but it suddenly became okay to forgive someone in my heart and to try to stop feeling angry (and try to hide the anger until it stopped) without going to that person and actually talking to them. Brauns calls this version of forgiveness "therapeutic forgiveness," because in it Smedes has turned forgiveness into an emotion from which we have a right to be healed. "He redefines forgiveness," Brauns writes. "According to Smedes, forgiveness becomes an emotion rather than a transaction or commitment between two parties. Specifically, forgiveness becomes the universal antidote for bitterness."

Remember Brauns' definition of forgiveness? Forgiveness is a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.

So what's wrong with the therapeutic view? I can speak from my own experience about what is wrong with it. It's not good to be angry or bitter. Since I have employed this method, I have seen many friendships fade - either because I chose to drift away or they did. People also quit being truthful about being offended. I remember practically having to drag the information out of one of my acquaintances when I offended her, otherwise she would ignore me for months. As I grew older, people even began to hide information about who I had offended (or seemingly offended) rather than try for reconciliation. This is a "wonderful" environment for gossip to flourish, thus ruining reputations and causing people who aren't involved in the alleged problem to have hard feelings toward people they may or may not even know. This environment breeds paranoia and an unwillingness to become close to others.

Conversely, my husband and I have a very healthy relationship. We tell each other when we feel we have been wronged. Bringing it out in the open helps us analyze what we are feeling and the viewpoint of the other person. Once this is done, we kiss and make up. The problem is over as far as we're concerned. Why do I have so much trouble doing this with other people? I see it as a lack of love in my heart because of the hurt I've suffered in the past.

The therapeutic view says that we are to forgive automatically. We are to immediately shut down any negative feelings. Yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that this is virtually impossible. Buried feelings reap a bitter harvest. It appears that the biblical view, which includes a two party agreement and reconciliation is much healthier for ourselves, the other person, and for the community at large.

Brauns' book has a great chart comparing and contrasting the biblical and the therapeutic view of forgiveness. He also offers sound reasons as to why the biblical view is the best way. I urge you to purchase the book or borrow it from a local library*. I have simply summarized the chapter here and used my own experiences to illustrate Brauns' view. Maybe you'll have a different outlook after reading the chapter yourself. I'd love to hear what it is.

*If your library does not have the book, ask your librarians if they will obtain it through an inter-library loan. Our librarians here in town are quite happy to do this. Yours probably will be too.

Wednesday

An Old Tradition with a New Twist

Outside the church, this Christmas season began for many on Thanksgiving Day at 8 p.m. when major stores began their Black Friday sales. Here at Yahbut: AL  I wrote about rebelling against the unmitigated display of commercialism and greed by staying home. My family did that - well, the boys took their grandfather to a national park, but they didn't go shopping. My mom and I, on the other hand, stayed home and made Christmas presents while Mike did stuff around the house. Making presents on Black Friday was a lot more fun and relaxing than going to the store to wade through hordes of people.

In light of my rebellion and because I'm focusing my devotional time on the daily lectionary, our family began a new tradition this year. We fashioned an Advent wreath. On December 2, when the church at large began its Advent celebration, we lit a candle just before eating our Sunday meal. Many churches have advent wreaths in the sanctuary. They light a candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and read a little about what it means.

Here is a picture of ours:


Well, I must confess, it's more like an Advent number line but we still have the candles.

Not being Catholic and having grown up in a lower Protestant denomination, Advent wreaths were not part of my heritage. In our church, these wreaths emerged as part of Christmas celebrations sometime in the early 1990s so I had very little understanding of their symbolism. As a result, when I bought my candles at IKEA, I purchased four purple candles and a white candle. I also bought a porcelain rectangular platter upon which to place them - thus, the number line analogy. This is better for my table, actually, rather than having a wreath. So, I'll probably get some evergreen and place it on the platter in order to represent eternity. That's what I get for not doing my research before buying, but this is what I'll stick with for now.


No one really knows the origin of the advent wreath, but traditional sources say that it stems from Germany. The Catholic Education Resource Center has this on their website:

There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

In the Middle Ages, Christians adapted this tradition for their own use. Christians made "Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is 'the Light that came into the world' to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath," according to the Catholic Education Resource Center (see above link).

Advent wreaths are circular to represent eternity (Well, mine is straight, but a number line goes on into infinity so I guess my family is okay there). They are usually decorated with evergreens in order to represent life and resurrection. The candles - three purple, one rose - represent the four weeks of Advent. I have four purple candles because Ikea did not have rose-colored candles.

The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday ... (which) is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

Later adaptations included a white candle placed in the center of the wreath. This candle, often called the Christ Candle, represents Jesus and is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve.

On Sunday, when our family gathered to watch the Broncos beat Tampa Bay and win the AFC West (yea!), before dinner I told them a little about the Advent, uh, number line, and talked about the joy of Christmas. Because of our culture, I told them, we think of Christmas as a time for giving gifts, but really the gifts are symbols of what the wisemen gave to Jesus. More importantly, they also represent Jesus, God's greatest gift to us. The word Advent means 'coming' and so this Christmas season our candles, which represent the light of Christ, will help us wait for his coming. According to my research, I don't think this was actually the emphasis for the first Sunday, but this is what I felt led to do.

We then lit the candle and Mike prayed this prayer that we found on the Catholic News Agency website. On the website the prayer is divided into two parts. We combined the two.


Let us pray that we may take Christ's coming seriously.
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Lord God, I sense your power, your might and I stand in awe, painfully aware of how poor and weak I am before you.
As I begin this Advent journey, teach me to turn to you in my fear and sorrow.
I don't want to keep making my heart hard against you turning a deaf ear to your invitation.
Only you can help me to soften, to be like the clay in your gentle potter's hands.
Amen.

I plan to write more on Advent this season. It turns out that there is a lot of information on this celebration. May you have a happy Advent as you prepare your hearts for Christ's coming.




Monday

Giving someone water for Christmas ...

Hey, everyone. Here's the most recent e-mail from Dr. Joe with Compassion for Africa.

Are you searching for a Christmas gift for that person in your life who’s tough to buy for? How about honoring them with the gift of a well—or part of a well? Amazingly, a well in northern Ghana can be dug for $3,200.

Wells are Dug One Shovelful at a Time

Compassion for Africa hires local labor to dig wells by hand. One of the many benefits of a hand dug well (see picture above) is it provides jobs for local people. By engaging local labor, it gives local people an opportunity to participate in the well’s construction. In this way local ownership of the project is fostered and wells are dug “with” local communities rather than “for” them.

If soil is sandy, an entire well can be dug by hand; but, in cases where the soil is extremely rocky, an augur is brought in (hiring an augur significantly increases the cost of a well). If large rocks prevent further digging, dynamite is used. Usually, wells need to be dug no deeper than 40 feet, even in the desert-like conditions of northern Ghana. After a well is dug, it is lined and then a pump is installed. The top of the well is sealed with concrete that forms a trough down which excess water runs and is caught in one or two small holding areas from which animals can drink water that would otherwise be lost.

How One Well has Benefitted the Galenzewu Community

One well services around 1,000 people a day. In the arid Galenzewu community near Tamale, Ghana, however, it’s more like 1,500 or more. When I was in Ghana this last summer, I asked some of the people in the Galenzewu community how the well CFA sponsored has helped their lives.

A woman with a small baby told me before the well was dug she walked 3-4 hours a day to fetch water. She expressed heartfelt thanks that God has used the Church of the Nazarene to bring clean water to her village. She said she has not only received spiritual help from Christ as her Living water, but the water from the well has cut down problems of cooking, bathing, and washing clothes. Life is much better for her now, she says, because her children are healthier and experience diarrhea much less frequently.

One man told me: “In Christ there are many blessings. Water was a very big problem for us before the Church of the Nazarene came to our village. We had to travel very far for water and the people near the water made us pay for it even though cattle drank from it and defecated in it.”

The Galenzewu community’s old source of water was so dirty that before drinking it they had to wait over night for the sediment to settle. And, even then, the dirt never completely settled. As a result many children got diarrhea, ring worm, and died. Water used to be the most difficult challenge to the village of Galenzewu. Since the digging of the well, the people in Galenzewu have been healthier, there is much less diarrhea, and fewer children are dying. The people in Galenzewu are also very careful to conserve the water in the well, using it only for drinking and cooking. Both men and women told me many times: “Our words cannot express how truly grateful we are for the well.”

When I visited with Galenzewu’s village chief, he told me, “Water is everything. When a guest visits my compound (see picture above), he offers water even before food.” He asked rhetorically, “What does your visitor think if you offer him dirty water? Now I am proud to have guests and offer them clean water.”

As Christians we believe that clean water promotes health and saves lives which God created in love. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for the least of these [such as giving the thirsty a drink], you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

God bless you and your families as you consider gifts for those on your Christmas list. A gift of $10, $25, $50, or $100 in honor of a loved one will give the gift of clean and living water to the thirsty in Ghana this Christmas.
Joe Gorman
Executive Director, Compassion for Africa

If you are able to give toward any of our projects, please send a check made payable to Compassion for Africa, 412 West Bayhill Drive, Nampa, ID 83686 and tell us which project you’d like your gift to go toward.

100% of all monies given to “Compassion for Africa” (www.compassionforafrica.org; www.facebook.com/compassionforafrica) go directly to the project for which you designate them. There is no administrative overhead as any travel, transport, printing, postage or other costs associated with “Compassion for Africa” are paid through separate donations. Compassion for Africa is a registered 501(c)(3) with the IRS.

You can also donate through PayPal, on the Compassion For Africa website.



Wednesday

Unpacking Forgiveness: A Definition for Christians

When I worked as a newspaper reporter our staff had frequent meetings to decide what topics we wanted to write about in the coming weeks. During the holiday season we tried to run special articles about gift giving, what there was to do around town and also articles about how to get along with family members. Why? Because this is the time of year when families get together. As we know, families don't always get along.

The holidays bring high expectations. Typical holiday specials on television and in movies usually show families getting together, fighting and then by the time Christmas morning rolls around everyone is happy and in love once again. Broken relationships are magically healed and everyone gets what they want. This is all well and good but it is just not realistic. Sometimes when families get together there is a palpable tension. Snide remarks are made, unpleasant memories resurface, people act selfishly. This can irritate others so much than they may even come to blows.

Forgiveness is truly an important ingredient for happy family gatherings.

As Christians, we are expected to forgive like God forgives. Last week I wrote about the definition that author Chris Brauns developed for forgiveness in his book "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds" This definition is:

God's forgiveness: A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences (p. 51).

"...We can adapt the above definition of God's forgiveness to a general definition for human forgiveness," Brauns writes. "Forgiveness: A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated."

The word "graciously" is important. As Christians, we should always be willing to forgive those who have offended us just as Jesus offered forgiveness when he was dying on the cross.

According to this definition, forgiveness is also a commitment, or, a "promise to pardon another," Brauns writes. He quotes Ken Sande, author of "The Peacemaker":

"...You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what God does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others."

I think that the most important part of this definition is in the phrase "pardon graciously the repentant." In other words, forgiveness requires a two-party agreement. I cannot forgive someone who does not repent. I can choose to let things go and not hold things against people but true forgiveness does not happen unless the offender comes to terms with what he or she did and asks forgiveness.

So, offenders must repent. This means that they do not commit the offense again. Biblically speaking, "to repent means to change behavior as a result of a complete change of thinking and attitude" (p 57). As Christians we must always freely forgive the repentant because that is what God does for us.

Once we forgive, reconciliation follows, but this does not mean the offender will not suffer consequences, nor does it mean that the relationship between the offender and the offended will become as it was. Sometimes when we forgive in a difficult situation, the relationship with that person will not go back to its original state. For instance, when I wrote about my old boyfriend who asked for forgiveness this did not mean that we had to get back together. Far from it. There was a reason I broke off the relationship. That reason was not going to change even though I forgave him. Getting back together wasn't possible.

You may also be in a situation in which you are asked to forgive, but you just cannot bring yourself to do that. It is against all logic, at times, to forgive, yet  people have done so in unthinkable situations. One of my favorite stories is about Corrie ten Boom, who helped hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Corrie and her family were eventually sent to a concentration camp for this offense. After her release and the war ended, Corrie traveled around the world telling people about her experience about sharing God's love. Once when she was invited to speak in Germany, a man approached Corrie after her talk. She recognized him as one of the guards in the concentration camp who was particularly cruel. Remarkably, this man had met Jesus and asked Corrie's forgiveness. She paused for a bit because this was very difficult for her and then finally extended her hand to shake his as a gesture of forgiveness. She described how freeing the moment was in her book "The Hiding Place."

"Perhaps nothing is more glorifying to Christ than Christians forgiving others as God forgave them," Brauns writes. "...Graciously, willingly, and freely, they should offer a costly present to any who offend them. Those who do repent and unwrap the offered package will find forgiveness and reconciliation inside."

Next week we'll review chapter five, "More Than a Feeling."







Unpacking Forgiveness: Defining Forgiveness

Anyone who has had to suffer from repeated hurts inflicted by another person has learned that forgiveness is difficult to define. much less achieve. Does that sound like a Christian response, given what we are taught about forgiveness?

Often, in church, or by other believers, we are told that in order to make the pain go away we just need to do what Jesus' said and forgive - over and over, if necessary (Matthew 18: 21 - 35 ). This is true, of course. Our Master Jesus would not have said this if it were not the way to go, but how is this lived out? In order to do this, we must gain a more in depth understanding of forgiveness if we are going to be forgiving people. There is no simple 'how-to' in forgiveness. It can take time - even years - to work through the hurt and anxiety caused by others.

In his book "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds," author Chris Brauns writes that "the Bible says far more how God forgives people than it does about how people should forgive people (p. 45)." So, in order to develop a more in depth working definition of forgiveness, we must study to scripture to find out how God forgives us.

Brauns defines forgiveness this way:

God's forgiveness: A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences (p. 51). 

In his book, Brauns offers an example of forgiveness from his own parenting experience. However, I would like to tell you one of my own so that I can go more in depth. I believe this is at the heart of what the chapter is discussing.


When my two oldest children were small -  Jonathan the youngest at the time of this event, about 16 to 18 months old - we lived in a parsonage that was connected to the church of which my husband was pastor. Our backyard stretched the length of the two buildings and was a nice place for the kids to play. The only drawback was that there was no fence between the street and our yard, so I had to be out there supervising the entire time they were outside. Jonathan, my fiery little redhead, loved to challenge me; he knew that he wasn't supposed to leave the yard and run out into the street. On this particular day, he and Andrew, the oldest, were playing with a ball. Jonathan did not catch it and it bounced past him. The next thing I knew, he was running full tilt toward the street. In his mind he thought he would just run out and bring the ball back. What he did not see, however, was a city bus heading in our direction.

Halfway across the yard, I yelled and ran after him as fast as I could, catching him at the curb. I grabbed his arm just as the bus reached our location. Fortunately, it was slowing down to stop in anticipation of what could have happened. I scooped Jonathan up into my arms and marched him inside with Andrew in tow. I then made the experience a little painful for him so that he would remember to never do that again. By the time the experience was over, I think Jonathan understood that what Mom said actually meant something and by that evening we were all well and happy. I had explained things as best I could and Jonathan said he was sorry. The ordeal was over and Jonathan never ran into the street again.

Now, I love my kids more than life itself, but I do not tolerate disobedience. It is for their own good. I did not spend all of those hours in painful labor to have them disobey me and get hurt or killed. I want them to grow into responsible adults who make a contribution to society and to the Kingdom of God - so I disciplined them. In the end we always talked about the situation so that I could make sure they knew that I loved them.

That's how God is with us. Brauns writes:

"God's forgiveness is gracious. He offers forgiveness freely. This is not because forgiveness is free in terms of cost. It is a very expensive gift that can be offered freely because, motivated by love, God sent his one and only Son to pay the price for it."  After disciplining my children, there was always a time of talk and forgiveness. Raising them is costly, in time, pain and expense so my forgiveness is not free, though it is offered freely.

"God's forgiveness is a commitment." When God forgives us, he makes a commitment that we are pardoned from our sin and that it is no longer counted against us." It would have been a lot easier at the moment not to discipline any of my children. I could have let them just run wild while I did something I enjoyed, but that is not what parenting is all about. When we have a child (or adopt one) we make a commitment to God and to that child to raise it in a healthy way. When our children disobey, we should be committed to disciplining them and forgiving. We should never hold what they did against them after the incident is over (unless it is a gentle reminder to not repeat the same action - "Do you remember what happened last time?").

"God's forgiveness lays the groundwork for and begins the process of reconciliation. When God forgives us, our relationship with him is restored." The talk after the discipline (usually when things had calmed down and we could sit in a quiet place) was the beginning of reconciliation between the offender (Jonathan in the above case) and the offended party (myself).

"Not all consequences are immediately eliminated. God disciplines his children as a father disciplines his children (Proverbs 3:12)." Just because I love my children doesn't mean that they don't need to suffer the consequences for their actions, even if they sincerely apologize after the offense. When they are little it means a time out or other consequence. As they grow the consequences change - some are contrived and some are natural. For instance, if one child were to say or do something that offended a sibling, that sibling may not be inclined to speak to the offender for a while. This is a natural consequence. I would expect, however, that once the situation calmed down that the relationship would be restored. Unfortuntely, I cannot protect my children from every consequence of their actions, especially as they enter the adult world. Life isn't like that. Forgiveness is not either.

So now we developed an understanding of how God forgives. Next week, we will define forgiveness for Christians. Please feel free to discuss this in the comment section and Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating it.


Tuesday

New items at WritingPlaces

I just added two new accessories for winter to WritingPlaces on Etsy.

Here is a warm slouchie beanie made of 100 percent wool. I used a very nice wool yarn produced by Lanarota Filatura of Italy. My granddaughter Tayler is modeling for me.



And a headband made from the same yarn. My pattern was purchased from The Crochet Dude.




I love this color. It's so bright and cheerful. It will make you stand out in the crowd on a dull winter day.