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.


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.


I'm rebelling this year ...

I'm rebelling this year.

Well, at least for the most part.

And against what am I rebelling? The hype of Black Friday and Christmas shopping in general.

I realize that as an Etsy seller that this puts me in a precarious position because I hope that people will buy from my store this holiday season. That would be great. I also plan to buy gifts too. I'm just not going to join the hype.

This year the time that Black Friday shopping will start has been pushed back to new heights of ridiculousness - 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in most stores and at 6 a.m. in one ad that I've seen. What will it be next? Stores offering free turkey sandwiches and cranberry juice to everyone who chooses to shop rather than stay at home giving thanks?

I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Many workers from Walmart are going to strike on Black Friday at the probable risk of losing their jobs. This Black Friday strike is meant to draw attention to other issues that the company's employees are angry about such as low wages, high insurance premiums and "alleged retaliation from management," according to Bloomberg Business Week. Here is a quote from an article on the subject:

Along with Target (TGT) and Sears (SHLD), Wal-Mart has plans to open retail stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Employees said they weren’t given a choice as to whether they would work on Thanksgiving and were told to do so with little warning. “They don’t care about family,” said Charlene Fletcher, a Wal-Mart associate in Duarte, Calif. She said she is expected to report for work at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The workers said that when they complain about scheduling and other problems, management cuts their hours or fires people. - BloombergBusinessWeek

With the national unemployment rate at 7.9 percent (and growing if all of the striking Walmart employees lose their jobs), the economy in a long-term recession, and the Northeast recovering from a devastating hurricane, why are these stores pressuring the American public to shop? Why are they also interrupting one of our most important holidays, a day in which Americans need to stop and give thanks for all of their blessings, in order to rush into Christmas, another important holiday that has been culturally reduced to a gift-giving, tinsel-laden frenzy.

As one who enjoys shopping, believe me, I understand why people shop on Black Friday. The deals at the stores are pretty amazing. However, this year, I'm going to stay home and digest my Thanksgiving dinner in relative peace. I'm also going to be snuggled in my bed during the wee hours when everyone else is spending the night at the mall fighting other buyers and being pushed around by rude people. No deal for merchandise - especially stuff mass produced in foreign sweat shops where harsh labor practices are far worse than Walmart's alleged sins - is worth all of that headache.

After I awake on Friday, my family will probably enjoy breakfast, clean up and then my mom and I plan to be downstairs crafting gifts for Christmas. I may even spend a little time online looking for deals but that's all. I'm not going to buy a lot of mass produced merchandise this year, including electronics. My kids understand this and they are fine with it.

So what will you do this year? Whatever you decide, keep the peace of Christ in your heart by recognizing that the Christmas season will pass and January will come. Will you start the coming year in debt and completely exhausted? Or, will you tone it down at bit, take a breath and enjoy the season of Christ's birth? It's your decision. Don't let the marketing departments of major stores choose for you.


Unpacking Forgiveness: Motivation to Unpack

In the year after my first husband died from pancreatic cancer, I was left alone with three boys, a dog, a new house and lots of boxes. Everything happened so fast after the funeral. The boys and I got everything important unpacked, and then placed the unpacked boxes in the garage, what is now the guest room and the shed.

Many of the boxes we had "hidden" away contained my late husband's belongings and since I was trying to stay strong for three grieving boys I had no desire to unpack those boxes. Plus, I was working full time so between keeping up with the boys, my job, housework and everything else, unpacking was not a priority. That is until Mike came into my life. Once we knew we wanted to get married, those boxes had to be unpacked because Mike was moving in after the wedding.

In order to forgive, Chris Brauns writes in his book "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds", we must be "properly motivated." This is because forgiveness is highly emotional and intellectually demanding, Brauns writes. Emotional because the issues that surround forgiveness can involve complex feelings such as fear, anger, worry, etc. Remember when people told me that I needed to forgive that ex-boyfriend who was stalking me and making my life miserable? The reason I didn't want to forgive him (which in their minds meant becoming pals again) was because I was afraid that we would get back together. There was a reason I had broken up with him. I was too stressed out emotionally to deal with him.

Forgiveness is also intellectually challenging. Brauns says that it is because it is a "practical area of living." What we believe on a theological level, such as matters of salvation, the church, what happens after death and the end times, all affects how we live out forgiveness. In the case of unpacking my boxes, I knew that my late husband was with the Lord so that was comforting; however, it didn't help much with the rush of emotions I felt after seeing his picture or handling a favorite shirt. It was not until God gave me the emotional comfort of being loved again by Mike that I had enough courage to unpack. That was the motivation I needed.

"So why do it?" Brauns asks. "Here is the short answer. You should be motivated to unpack forgiveness so you can know maximum happiness."

How can this be? 

Consider this statement from John Piper that Brauns quotes: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

To apply this statement to forgiveness, Brauns writes: "We should seek to glorify God in how we work through broken relationships, know that even as we glorify God, we will maximize our joy. Or to use my words, we ought to unpack forgiveness because it is both right (it glorifies God) and best (it maximizes my happiness)."

No one likes a mess or constant reminders (like stacks of boxes) of what has been left undone. We need Jesus to guide us, to reshape our motives, to teach us how to forgive. We need to take time to learn from Jesus because he is "gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11: 28 - 30). This involves reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship with other believers and worship, or the means of grace. 

Learning does not happen all at once. Do you remember learning how to divide numbers? That didn't happen overnight. First you had to learn how to read numbers, add, subtract, multiply, follow procedures and then you were ready to divide. This is rather simplistic but I hope you understand my point. It's the same in our spiritual lives. God isn't going to dump "division" on us before we learn prior steps. He isn't going to give us anything that he knows is too difficult for us to handle. Being obedient will lead to joy and happiness in Christ. 

After unpacking all of those boxes, I felt great relief. My new husband moved in and we could begin building our lives together. However, I think that if I had never unpacked those boxes it could have been a source of contention between us. We wouldn't have been able to arrange the house in the way we wanted; they would have stopped progress in everything we tried to do regarding cleaning, hospitality, household repair, etc. Mike would have been pressured to convince me somehow to do something with the boxes knowing that I was hanging on to the past, afraid of moving forward. It may have caused unnecessary tension.  Eventually, I would have unpacked, but it took proper motivation - wanting happiness in a new life - to move forward.

Other posts in this series:

 Unpacking Forgiveness: How to Start

Forgiving from a Distance


Opportunities for giving

Hey there crafters, especially you knitters and crocheters!  As the news reports coming from the area hit by Hurricane Sandy decrease, we need to remember that there is still a need in that area. I found this plea on the blog of Lion Brand Yarn and thought I'd share. Also, my friend Dr. Joe Gorman has sent out a request for Compassion for Africa - an organization that this blog and my Etsy shop support.

First the handcrafted items. The website that originally shared this information was Bev's Country Cottage.

Accepting Handmade and other items:

From my friend Iris... "Here is the name/address/e-mail of the charity in Brooklyn, New York City who is taking the following (they told me they will take "in-kind" items), in GOOD condition only:

"warm clothes for babies and winter wear for other ages."

Here is how to contact them:

Red Hook Initiative

767 Hicks Street

Brooklyn New York 11231

Phone: 718-858-6782

Fax: 718-852-4984


More on redhook and needs---

Handcrafted Items for Seniors

"A friend in New York City donates to the Visiting Nurse Service of NY, and they would welcome handcrafted items for hurricane victims. Baby to elderly and everyone in-between. Washable yarn probably best."(Carol) Items can be sent asap.

Kathy Harrington, Volunteer Coordinator

Visiting Nurse Service of New York

107 E. 70th Street

New York, NY 10021

Warm Items Needed

From Mikey at the Crochet Crowd (two addresses for churches, please donate handmade items if you can):

Hurricane Sandy Relief c/o

Worship & Praise Community Church

11 Olympia Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10305

They are collecting new hats, mittens, scarves, blankets, toys for kids, gently used coats, household products...

Shelters in Need

There are many shelters who are requesting sweatshirts, sweats, Depends, socks and underwear XL+

This particular shelter is serving medical/special needs persons.

You could call them to find out specifically about their needs

Park Slope Armory, 361 15th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215. Phone: (212) 912-2580)

Request for Handmade Items

Items may be sent for now to Suzy Allen Designs, 31 Jeremy Circle, Nesconset, NY 11767

Items that are needed are cold weather items like






Please handmade items only and please let me know what’s on the way so we can let our postal carrier know!

You can find her on ravelry:

Make it Better Craftalong for Sandy Relief

Make hats, scarves, socks, blankets and more to warm the east coast affected by this storm.

Find them on Facebook

Items can be mailed to:

Natalie Soud

Soho Grand Hotel

310 W. Broadway

New York, NY 10013

Compassion for Africa

With Christmas just a short six weeks away, Compassion for Africa wants to help you with ideas for meaningful gifts that will change the world in Jesus' name for needy girls, boys, and families. All these gifts are guaranteed to put a smile on a loved one’s face and change the life of the recipient. Here’s our gift guide:

Pigs for Vulnerable Girls and Children with Handicaps

  • A gift of $50 for a pair of pigs will provide a teenage girl in NE Ghana living savings account for school fees, school supplies, and personal items. A pair of pigs also prevents girls as young as 12 from being brutally forced and sold by their fathers into polygamous marriages.

  • A pair of pigs for a child with a handicap can help the child attend school. Even if the child is physically unable take care of the pigs, their family will benefit from the pigs thus improving the wellbeing of the child and the entire family.

Metal sheets, doors, malaria netting, and windows for the Annie Gorman Medical Clinic in Namankwan, northeastern Ghana.

  • $10 for a piece of metal sheeting for the roof (as soon as the roof is completed, two local Nazarene nurses, who also happen to be pastors, will start seeing patients at the clinic)

  • $25 for a door (10 external and internal doors are needed)

  • $20 for each malaria net to cover the 10 windows of the clinic (this is a health regulation of the government of Ghana)

  • $100 for each of the 10 windows (this will cover the metal frames, glass, and installation of security bars)

Sewing machines

  • $200 will provide a teenage girl with a sewing machine, start-up materials such as needles, thread, sewing material, and scissors as well as a two-year apprenticeship with a local master seamstress.

Community Well

  • $3,200 will provide everything needed for a community well--a bore hole drilled well, concrete lining, a pump, and a concrete cap. Community wells provide clean water for 1,000+ people in a local community every day.

Please designate on your check the particular gift you are giving. Since Compassion for Africa is a small and nimble organization, we can guarantee that your gifts will go exactly for the purpose and project you designate.

We are in the process of designing a “Thank You” card on the Compassion for Africa website that you can print off and send to the loved one in whose honor you are purchasing one or more of the above gifts. We hope to have this online by Thanksgiving.

Be sure to check out the new look of Thank you to and God bless Mike Steeves for his many hours of work!

Thank you for your prayers and generous financial support. They really are changing the world one girl, one boy, one family, one community at a time for the glory of God and the healing of the world in Christ.


Soul Survivor

"I've spent most of my adult life recovering from the church." A shocking statement? Perhaps. But when it comes from one of America's top-selling Christian authors, one wonders what he has to say.

Actually, if you've read other books by Phillip Yancey, you'll know that he does not write about easy topics. Titles of some of his books include: 'The Jesus I Never Knew,' 'What's So Amazing About Grace?', 'Disappointment With God', and 'What Good Is God?'

These titles may suggest that the author has not had an easy time on his Christian journey.

His book 'Soul Survivor' is about that journey and the thirteen mentors who helped him survive the church.

Here is a line up of his 'mentors' - some of whom he has met, and some of whom he has not:
  • Dr. Paul Brand: a pioneer in the treatment of leprosy patients
  • G. K. Chesterton: Outspoken Christian newspaper editor at the turn of the 19th century
  • Annie Dillard: American author
  • Frederick Buechner: American author, theologian and Presbyterian minister
  • C. Everett Koop: former surgeon general of the United States
  • Leo Tolstoy: Russian writer
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Russian writer (the writings of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are credited with keeping Christianity alive in Communist Russia)
  • Henri Nouwen: Catholic priest, spiritual writer
  • John Donne: English poet, satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England, according to Wikipedia.
  • Mahatma Gandhi: leader of Indian nationalists in India during British rule. Very well known for his stance on nonviolent resistance
  • Shusaku Endo: 20th century Japanese author
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Also well known for his stance on nonviolent protest.
  • Robert Coles: American author, child psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University.
Born and raised in the deep South during the 50s and 60s, Yancey grew up in a church that preached racism as doctrine. It took many years for Yancey to overcome that teaching. His chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr. talks about how King's writings helped him in that plight. Each mentor had a profound effect in Yancey's life at the right time. His own biography is interwoven with the life stories of these people who serve as Yancey's mentors. Yet, even thought the lessons apply to him and his situation, they are life lessons for a vast array of readers as well.

Although the book was published in 2003, I had not heard of it until a few weeks ago when I was browsing through an Amazon advertisement and the title jumped out at me like a frightened mouse. I had not previously heard of this title by Yancey so I looked at the summary and was surprised to find that the book was about Yancey's problems with the church. Since Yancey is a Christian writer whom I greatly respect for his willingness to delve into difficult issues, and, who works with and for well known Christian organizations, I wondered how he could have had problems with the church.

Although I have not been indoctrinated in racism, during the last few years I have been dealing with my own set of problems with the church. Before reading 'Soul Survivor' I had not read anything by a Christian author who I thought had helped me in that area specifically. It seemed that God brought this book to me at the right time. While reading Yancey's beautifully crafted prose I seemed to connect with this fellow believer who had struggled deeply with Christ's bride. This refreshed my own commitment both to the church and, more importantly, to Christ himself.

C. S. Lewis said that "we read to know that we are not alone" and that is certainly true. Books and other reading materials have been a continual solace to me throughout my life. "Soul Survivor" joins that line up of books that have meant the most.


God and Art Series: The Saints

Last week was All Saints Day. I didn't do the God and Art Series installment that I wanted to for that day, so here it is this week.

There really shouldn't be just the one day  set aside to observe the lives of the saints. We should look to their example everyday. They are not more important than Jesus, of course, but we can be helped by learning about their lives and reading their writings. Many of them have inspired, or even founded, orders and organizations that have served humankind for many centuries.

Art and the subject of the saints seem to go hand in hand. For centuries, artists have depicted saints who have inspired them to serve as a reminder of their lives and example. Here are some from modern artists on Etsy.
St. Catherine of Siena - InTheCompanyOfSaints

St. Archangel Michael Byzantine style - iconsart
St. Gabriel the Archangel - LuxMeaChristus
St. Benedict - medussasupplies
St. Tatiana - Hamedian Gallery

Have a great weekend, everyone. May the Lord bless you and protect you from all evil. May he lead you to everlasting life. Amen.


Unpacking Forgiveness: How to Start

Unpacking Forgiveness at Amazon
Every year my husband and I take a trip to North Carolina by airplane so that we can visit his sister and her family and become reacquainted with the salt air and the sea water that courses through our coast-loving veins. We were both brought up on separate coasts and we somehow met here in the middle where water is a precious commodity. But we're together, it's okay.

Every year we pack for the trip and try as hard as we can to condense what we need for the trip down to what will fit in our carry ons. It's hard for me, especially on the way back because of all the seashells I have gathered. Mike does well because he was in the Air Force for 20 years and had to live that way from time to time. I've gotten a wee bit better over the years out of necessity. Packing heavily and carrying or rolling a heavy bag through the airport is cumbersome, especially when you're trying to make a flight. My baggage has become somewhat lighter because I do not want to bear the load.

Forgiveness is like my suitcase. Whether or not to forgive and unpack unnecessary emotional baggage is an issue that many of us face - sometimes everyday. Let's face it, life is not easy. People hurt us. We hurt others. Sometimes we're just born into a bad situation and have painful scars; sometimes we either put ourselves in a painful position or someone else does it for us. Either way, the wounds we suffer do not go away easily. Neither do the items I pack thinking that I might need them, for that matter.

The hurt we feel is not something to take lightly, but we can tuck them away in the 'suitcase of our soul', thus making our travel down life's road more difficult. Or, we can unpack them and make our suitcase lighter.

My use of  the term "unpacking" in this sense comes from Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, by pastor and author Chris Brauns.

 Jesus, Brauns says, is there to help:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28 - 30

You can begin to unpack forgiveness by first accepting Jesus' invitation to lay your burden on him, Brauns writes. Jesus is not up in heaven standing over us like a patrol officer, or angry parent, waiting to strike us for having problems. Jesus invites us come to him, take on his yoke and rest.

"But wait. Before you accept Jesus' offer to rest, read the invitation closely. Jesus does not invite worn-out people to take a nap. Nor does he suggest that if we will chant a one-time prayer, refreshment will be granted automatically. No; Jesus says to assume his yoke and learn from him. Jesus invites those who need rest to work with him," Brauns writes. 

When two oxen are yoked together, each ox must carry its own part of the load in order for the yoke to work effectively. If one ox decides to let the other ox do all the work while he just muddles along, the load they are supposed to be pulling will not be equally distributed; they will not move in the right direction, if they can move at all. If both oxen work together, the load is carried; the furrow is plowed correctly, the work gets done. If both oxen do their own work, it's a lot easier for both.

This is why Christ describes his offer to rest as a yoke. If we are to unpack forgiveness, if we are to unpack our suitcase of unnecessary baggage, we must work with God in order to get the job done.

There are tools to help. These are what theologians describe as the "means of grace." 

"Means of grace are how God pours out his grace into the life of a Christian. These means of grace include his Word*, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and worship" (Brauns, 31)

John Wesley describes the means of grace this way: "The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon); and receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men." (Sermon 16, The Means of Grace).

Wesley includes communion as part of the fellowship of believers. Communion is a means of grace because in it we ask God's forgiveness and partake in common ground - Christ's sacrifice - with other believers. Taking communion together may indeed remind us that there is something much larger for which to live and may therefore help us drop petty offences that we hold against each other. For wounds that are very deep, communion may help serve as a balm that eases the pain for a while - the balm being God's grace and love poured into our broken hearts.

To close chapter one, Brauns writes: "These means of grace are how we take Christ's yoke upon us and learn from him. Christ's way of unpacking forgiveness is not three easy steps. It is a way of life, following Jesus, learning from him, being involved in his church, hearing his Word preached. Apart from consistent involvement in these disciplines, you are trying to paddle with a stick. And that just won't work" (Brauns, 32).

Sometimes I need help unpacking my suitcase. I talk to Mike, asking his opinion on what we'll need. Usually, after this discussion, I do not miss what I leave behind. If you unpack that 'suitcase of your soul' with the 'means of grace' as your guide, you will not miss what you leave behind after unpacking your burdens.

If you would like to discover what you believe about forgiveness and to gain more insight into this book, try this quiz from Pastor Brauns' website:

Forgiveness Quiz

Next week well look into chapter 2, Motivation to Unpack.

Other posts in this series: Forgiving From A Distance

*I assume by using the capitalized term Word, that Brauns means the Bible. Whenever you see the term "word" capitalized on this blog it will mean the living Word, Jesus Christ. Any reference to the Bible as the word will not be capitalized. However, if I am directly quoting someone, I will leave the capitalized version as I do here.


Blue State or Red State Jesus?

Today is election day in the United States. Beyond rhetoric, it is a day that is usually peaceful, especially in comparison to election day in other countries. However, here in the United States, our nation is suffering a great division. I think the election will be close because about half the country believes the Democrat way is best and the other half believes that the Republican way is best. Which way the election will go seems to depend on those who haven't signed on to either side, and how fed up that group may be with the agenda of either party.

To my dismay, this division is also evident in the church at large. You will see it on a small scale in local churches, but on the large scale, entire denominations can either be known by their so-called  'liberal' or 'conservative' preferences. In a lot of these churches there is no middle ground. People who may lean to the right or to the left but who are largely in the middle are uncomfortable in churches that sway heavily to the right or left. When a church does try to lean to the right or to the left, whatever the majority of the congregation members believe can deeply affect relationships with those who do not agree.These are political views, but it also encompasses theological views. Does this not remind you of the "powers and principalities" that Paul talks about it Ephesians, poisoning the body of Christ?

This political split among those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ was demonstrated to me recently by a quiz published by CNN. Responding to the quiz tells the quizee whether or not he or she believes in a Blue or Red State Jesus.

Personally, I was insulted by the quiz. It's rather polarizing. For instance, most questions could be answered as Both, but there is no selection for that answer. Here are two samples:

Do you believe Jesus is going to return one day, descending from the clouds with an army of angels to fight the final battle between good and evil? Or are you focused on creating Jesus' kingdom "on earth as it is heaven" and not too worried about who's left behind or whether Jesus is coming back -- or perhaps never even left?

Choice: "Left Behind" Jesus   or  Never Left Jesus


Do you think the most important biblical passage that distills Jesus' message is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son," and that salvation is determined by your acceptance of Jesus as savior? Or do you think it's Matthew 25: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me," and that salvation is determined by how you treat the poor and vulnerable?

Choice:  John 3:16  or Matthew 25

What kinds of questions are those? My answer to those is both. Yet, there are people who are so polarized in their beliefs to think that it's either/or and not some of both.

For instance, someone of the Wesleyan persuasion, such as myself, would heartily believe in the all-important message of John 3:16 and that Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life. However, we also believe that once a person accepts that truth, his or her life will be a testimony to what Christ has done so works of social justice and compassion would be a result of the faith and the love that God has placed in our hearts. To think that salvation is one or the other and not both is foreign to a Wesleyan and a lot of good Christian people of other persuasions.

This question also perturbed me:

Do you believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead after his crucifixion? Or do you believe that Jesus' resurrection was symbolic and not dependent on his body rising from the grave?

Choice: The Risen Jesus or, The Symbolic Jesus

The concept of the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. We see this stated clearly in the Apostles' Creed, which serves as a statement of faith for most, if not all, Christians. If Christ's body is still in the grave then our faith is in vain. Either Jesus is who he said he is or he isn't.  On this matter, there are no two ways about it.

What this quiz demonstrates is that the divide that has occurred among Christian people will deeply affect who they will choose for president. It doesn't seek to bring people together at all.

Today, some churches are offering communion to Christians in an effort to show us that we are all one in Christ no matter how we vote. That, my friends, is a great idea. Christians need to remember that we serve a higher purpose than that of our political affiliation. We are here to serve the risen Christ.

Instead of praying "My will be done," we should be praying that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray. With this in mind, we vote our consciences and accept the fact that other Christians will do the same. We may not agree with each other, but in Christ we are one. We can agree to disagree and then love each other from the heart while, perhaps, having a little friendly debate to sharpen each other up a bit. To me, that would be a thriving Christian community.

What do you think?


Forgiving from a distance ...

The last person I saw as I left  the Point Loma Nazarene University campus after graduation was an old boyfriend that I had had a difficult time avoiding for the last three years. It was uncomfortable to say the least. His car was parked right next to mine and his family was there. So was mine.

I muttered goodbye in answer to him and got into my car, and quickly left. It was very awkward.

I had just graduated from a Christian university and I professed to follow Christ. Why did it look like I had not forgiven this person? You would have to know the history before you judge me on that. All I'll tell you is that after I broke up with this person, he essentially stalked me for the next year or so. It seemed like everywhere I went he was there. He wouldn't leave me alone so I avoided places that I needed to go, like the cafeteria, in order to get away from him. My mom didn't like the fact that I was only eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my dorm room so she called the school and complained. I was then summoned to the school counselor who told me to not talk to my ex-boyfriend. The counselor said that the ex- had been told not to talk to me. That didn't work very well, at least in his case.

To give you an idea as to how bad the situation was, a couple of years later I found out that he had been whining and lying about our relationship to most of the guys in his dorm. I had quite the reputation and didn't know it. I didn't know why people avoided me until one of my male friends told me about this. Apparently, my ex-boyfriend had talked to him about me because he thought we were dating. He did this to several guys who associated with me. Only two of them told me about it.

At the time, no one told me that I could have gotten a restraining order. Most people told me that I needed to forgive him so that everything would be all right. Actually, I think some of them wanted me to forgive him because they were tired of his whining.  But, at that time I was terrified. I thought that by forgiving him I would have to get back together with him.

The entire situation was weird and creepy. By summer, my emotions were frazzled; I couldn't pray; I thought God hated me. It took weeks to start to recover. Good thing I had loving Christian parents and a good church body at the time. I never would have made it without them. Plus, my ex-boyfriend had called my house and had written letters to my parents. My dad - who is really tall, large fellow, and really good at communicating in no uncertain terms - told this guy to leave me alone and not come any where near my house. Fortunately, that did work.

By the time I went back to school in the fall, I was feeling pretty good. I didn't know that the ex-boyfriend had been "stalking" my parents at that time so my confidence was up and I felt like God had never stopped loving me. I was also convinced that I did not have to get back together with this guy. I didn't owe him anything. I could "forgive" him from a distance.

I don't think any of us really understood true forgiveness at the time. For some reason, people who had not really thought through Jesus' words about forgiveness were teaching us that we had to forgive everyone all the time in every situation so that we could be clear before God and go to heaven when we died. It was like the act of forgiving meant we had to accept being badly treated. I wish that the book "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds" by Chris Brauns had been at my disposal during that time. It would have helped a lot and perhaps I would have avoided years of guilt and despair over the situation I described.

Since my college days, there have been plenty of opportunities to forgive people who had hurt me deeply. I don't think you can go through life without someone doing something that just knocks the stuffing out of you. That's why I would like to take you through this book chapter by chapter and maybe together we can come up with some solutions that are biblically relevant to the situations we are in. So, on Thursday I would like to start with chapter one and cover a chapter a week. I have provided a link if you would like to buy the book (or borrow it from your local library). Because of copyright reasons, I'm not going to give you much of the text. This study will be based on my perceptions in reaction to Brauns' thoughts.

I hope you join me. Give this a chance before you judge this study because I have inferred that you don't have to forgive everyone all the time in every situation. Jesus was pretty clear on his teaching about forgiveness in that we must practice forgiveness. Dr. Brauns' book will help us understand how to deal with very difficult situations.

See you soon.



More from the Sale and about Saints

Okay, so apparently while I was shopping at the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale, my hubby was out taking pictures of the event. Bravo, Mikey! Here is a gallery on our website

37th Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale

There are photographs from other sales as well, just go to the gallery section.

Another tradition at the sale is the singing of the Doxology. This is not the same rendition of the Doxology that most people painfully sing on any  given Sunday. This is a much better version that the Mennonites take seriously and have turned into an art form. It is truly a song of praise. Listen here:

Isn't that awesome? It's sung every year just before the quilt auction in four-part harmony a capella. In the background, before the hymn is sung, you can see the ladies getting ready for the auction.

Today, November 1, is what is known in the church as All Saints Day. This day was set aside so that Christians could honor all of the saints, alive or dead, martyred or not. Originally, the celebration started on All Hallows Eve, or October 31, as a day to honor martyred saints. Later, the church also set aside November 1 as well so that saints who had died "normal" deaths could also be honored.

As we all know, All Hallows Eve mutated into its present form through the introduction of pagan practices. Protestants may also be a little leery of celebrating saints because they do not believe in praying to them so the celebration is usually centered in the Catholic, Orthodox and higher Protestant denominations.

Here is a great article about All Saint's Day from which I derived some of this information.

I see nothing wrong with honoring the saints. We can do this by educating ourselves about their lives and by following their example of devotion to God. In fact, it might be interesting for a church to center a harvest activity around the saints after a period of education in Sunday school. For Protestants, October 31 is celebrated as the day that Martin Luther is said to have nailed his explosive 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church. Why not celebrate that? Even Catholics could. The 95 Theses may have begun the split in the church, but it did lead to some of the needed reforms that Luther wanted. Remember, Luther had no intention of splitting the church. That happened because some saw the need for change and others wanted it to stay the same, and  both sides were perfectly willing to kill as many of the opposition as necessary to achieve their respective goals.

So who is your favorite saint? Who has helped you in your Christian life? Celebrate that today. Thank God for them. We really do need each other, as old-time preacher Rueben Welch used to say, and this is a great way to demonstrate that need.