Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

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Black olives may not please everyone’s palate, but my family –half of us, anyway– devour them like candy. In fact, whenever we have a build your own pizza night, my daughter’s pizza is usually black when she pops it in the oven due to serious olive overload. I can’t say I blame her; I’m one of the other olive lovers.

You can only imagine how elated I was the first time I realized my relatives, who lived in Phoenix, had several black olive trees growing in their back yard. “Go ahead, eat as many as you want,” my cousin told me.

Anxiously, I bit into the first one with great expectation. But I spit it out with disgust. Unbeknownst to me, those pleasant-looking fruit are bitter enough to turn your teeth inside out –until they are cured in lye, that is. Yes, I said lye.

Do you have any idea how hazardous lye can be? It can cause chemical burns, scarring, blindness, or respiratory failure; and probably even death under certain circumstances. Yep, that sounds like the kind of substance we need to treat our food with (Uh- NOT). I was stunned further to learn that manufacturers use lye to treat several other foods as well. But let’s talk about olives for a moment.

Did you know that olives are really good for our bodies? Not only do they contain a fair amount of iron, vitamin E, copper (an essential mineral) and fiber, they also have phytonutrients,  the organic components of plants which promote human health. Olives are said to:

 Contain antioxidants to fight disease.
 Have anti-inflammatory properties.
 Help decrease high blood pressure.
 Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
 Lower bad cholesterol.
 and more

It really boggles my mind that something as caustic as lye can take the bitterness right out of the olive fruit. What astounds me even more is that the caustic attacks of other people can take the bitterness right out of us.

How? First we must understand that “The building of character is the most important business of life. It matters little what works a man may leave in the world; his real success is measured by what he has wrought along the years in his own being…. True character must be built after divine patterns…” J.R. Miller, 1894

Jesus Christ is our divine pattern. What did he teach?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which spitefully use you (Luke 6:28).

More profound still,  while Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused, was being led to Mount Calvary to face an unjust crucifixion, he demonstrated for us the most noble of character:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

Why would the Son of God allow Himself to be beaten, spat upon, and ultimately murdered, without speaking one word in His own defense? It is because our Heavenly Father had a plan. Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior, was absolutely perfect as both man and God. But with His every word and action, Jesus gave us a pattern of how to live so that we might be perfected into His own image.

However, we are mere mortal men and we fail. Sometimes we allow the unjust actions of others to cause bitterness deep within our hearts. It is in times like these, I believe, that God allows caustic men and women to “crucify” us so that we may be “cured” and our fruit (the fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23) may be sweet.  And more importantly, so that this sweetened fruit may then be used as a catalyst to help heal the spiritual diseases of others.

Dear reader, the next time you or I encounter a caustic, abrasive person, let us remember the words of our precious LORD and pray for him (or her). And in so doing, may he or she see the character of God through us.

In closing, I offer this final thought; relationship battles can often be won through peace– I wouldn’t lie.

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[This blog, originally titled In Search of Bigfoot, has been greatly modified from the original in order to share a different message.]

Though there were few opportunities for adventure in my childhood, I once joined a group of six or seven other kids on an expedition to find the elusive “Bigfoot” monster. Several people had boasted of an encounter with the smelly, gargantuan beast in those Missouri bluffs so we figured it wouldn’t be too hard to spot him for ourselves.

Armed with nothing more than a healthy dose of bravado, we headed into a thicket which was disturbed only by a narrow dirt road that had long since been abandoned. Obviously, we never saw any trace of Bigfoot there, but we did stumble upon a densely wooded area with a chain stretched between two trees. On it hung a sign which stated in large capital letters: NO TRESPASSING – VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT!

Tell a bunch of kids who are out for adventure they can’t do something and what do they do? Half the kids ducked the chain before I even finished reading. “C’mon,” my brother scolded, “You’re holding us up!” Reluctantly, I followed the others deeper into the woods.

To our surprise, we didn’t have to travel far when we came upon a wood railing fence which was well maintained. Beyond that stretched the largest, greenest yard I had ever seen. A man on a riding mower was cutting near the back of the house when he spied three of us sitting on his fence watching.

I couldn’t quite make-out the angry words he hollered at us but everyone turned and ran as fast as their legs would carry them. The older kids had to stop a few times to let us younger ones catch-up, which allowed the man enough time to trade his mower for a four-wheeler. It became increasingly evident that he would reach us long before we made it back to the house, but the older kids didn’t seem overly worried -at least not until we heard gun shots.

Don’t get me wrong, the man wasn’t planning to shoot a bunch of kids. But he certainly wanted to scare the daylights out of us, which he did. When he posted the no trespassing warning, he meant NO trespassing!

I’m sure he must’ve seen us hunkered in the bushes trying to hide as he passed by, but after a few more gunshots and choice words, the sound of the motor faded and he was gone. We ran back to the house and said nothing to our parents, resolved to pretend it never happened.

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about that bungled Bigfoot adventure for years. Even if the Bigfoot legend is true, I’m certainly too old to go hunting for monsters. Nevertheless, I am still earnestly searching for something; I am continuously searching for God’s wisdom and understanding
–that is certainly worth finding no matter the challenges along the way.

I know that God is gracious and merciful, but He is also an awesome Heavenly Father who knows better than we do what is good for us and what is harmful. He has, therefore, placed “No Trespassing” commands throughout His word in order to keep us all safe and healthy.

Because I take God’s instructions very seriously, I always try to avoid whatever “monsters” God has forbidden me to pursue, regardless of how alluring they may be. That’s not always easy, of course, because human nature is easily enticed by the lure of the forbidden –just ask Adam and Eve. I learned the hard way, though, that giving into those temptations, as harmless as they may seem, only creates difficulty and heartache in the end. Even if the harm cannot be seen visibly, my spiritual well-being is always adversely affected, as is my relationship with the Lord. It’s not worth it.

Some no trespassing violations open doors of opportunity for the adversary to attack as well. Even so, I’m far more concerned about offending my Heavenly Father than I am about the devil’s schemes. That’s why I have firmly decided that if I am going to err, I would much rather do so by being overly strict in my attempts to obey God rather than being too compromising.

I want to encourage you, dear reader, please don’t view God’s No Trespassing warnings as oppressive restrictions, but rather as the profitable boundaries our Heavenly Father meant them to be. Like any loving parent, He expects us to obey the rules whether we understand His reasoning or not because they are meant for our good!

Finally, always remember that if we mess-up and duck some of God’s no trespassing warnings, we don’t have to hunker in the bushes in fear of His wrath. The Bible makes it clear that God does not desire violators to suffer harm. Yes, disobedience to His commandments is sin -which is punishable by death- but that’s why Jesus offered His own life as atonement for our sin. The preeminent message of the Holy Bible is forgiveness through repentance, by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Satan knows all about God’s no trespassing commands and deviously tempts mankind to ignore them. He delights in the thought that “violators will be shot.” However, God is merciful and gracious; His message is the opposite. He wants you to know above all, dear reader, that VIOLATERS CAN BE FORGIVEN!

Having searched for many things in this life, including legendary creatures, I can assure you that searching for God’s wisdom is far more exciting, profitable and rewarding than anything this world has to offer. Won’t you join me in the search?

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul
~ (Proverbs 2:1-10)

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photo credit: Forbes.com

Have you ever had one of those relatives whose very name made you cringe? Mine was a particular aunt. She always came to visit for a week or so without her family, but boy did I know all about my cousin Kathy even though I had never seen her in person.

Auntie dearest always sang Kathy’s praises
Ad nauseam, and they went something like this:

“Kathy is prettier than you! Kathy is smarter than you! Kathy is the closest thing to an angel this side of heaven.”

Then one day it happened; I finally got to see Kathy.

Laughing out loud would have been rude so I restrained myself and laughed silently. This was Kathy? This was the princess whose beauty could hardly be surpassed? Well, I guess love really is blind.

Kathy wasn’t overly intelligent either. Nor was she more creative, better at cooking, nor anything else I had ever heard about her. In fact, the only attribute in which Kathy seemed to be superior was ego.

After all those years of resenting my “perfect” cousin, I found myself feeling rather sorry for her. She might even have been likeable if she were not so self-centered. To her detriment, she had been conditioned to believe that the world revolved around her and should bow down to her. If Kathy had any natural beauty, I couldn’t see it through her ugly self-exalting (and mother-exalting) vanity.

A great many years have passed since I stepped out of Kathy’s shadow into the light of reality, but I have encountered others very much like her and her mother along the way. I pay them no heed and I certainly don’t allow myself to feel inferior to them no matter how superior they present themselves.

You and I need never compare ourselves to others because our heavenly Father doesn’t. There is no question we are all terribly flawed and markedly lacking, but we are children of the King (of Kings) and as such will one day be perfected.

Furthermore, each of us is special and unique. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light
(I Peter 2:9).

Though we are never to be puffed up in pride because of our heavenly status, we can certainly walk confidently in it. After all, our heavenly Father doesn’t care how brilliant our minds are. He cares only that we love him with our whole heart, soul and mind. And, He is not concerned about our physical appearance. When he looks at us sees only our heart (I Samuel 16:7). God is not even concerned about our ability –He is only interested in our AVAILability.

Satan, on the other hand, forever lost his heavenly status because of his puffed-up, self-exalted pride. No wonder he takes his fierce wrath out on God’s children. This deceiver also has a song that he sings Ad nauseam. Its lyrics go something like this:

“You’re not good enough. You’re not spiritual enough. God can’t use you! Did God really say that?”

If that weren’t enough, Satan wants us to live in the shadow of his child, whose name is condemnation. But the reality is that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

We might have to tolerate some unbearable relatives now and then, but we never have to tolerate the lies of the accuser of the brethren. And that’s the truth!

postscript: Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) and he is the father of all lies. (John 8:44) In fact, Satan is not really his name, it is his title. In the original Hebrew he is called hasatan, which means the (ha) deceiver (satan).

~ p.s.s. Kathy is not my cousin’s real name. Furthermore, these events took place more than thirty years ago while we were still quite young. We haven’t seen each other since, but I assume that “Kathy” is now a very down-to-earth person and I hope to see her again some day.

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The man was not home when they came to assassinate him for his faith in Jesus Christ, but his family was. Why they did not kill his wife is uncertain. Perhaps they thought it a far crueler “punishment” to kill his sons and force their mother to watch as they were shot to death by bullets which were far less steely than their own hearts. And so they did just that.

“When will you flee this place?” the woman was asked after this life-shattering tragedy.

“Not until I see God’s revenge on these men,” she answered. “These were my children; I changed their diapers I fed them and nurtured them. I loved them, and I had hopes that they would grow to be pastors or doctors; men who would help our people. And now, their lives have been cut off –they will never grow to be men.”

Concerned, her fellow Christian asked, “What do you mean by God’s revenge? What revenge?”

“I need God’s revenge!” she reiterated. “Please ask the churches to pray God’s revenge on these men that killed my sons — I need to see these men go to Heaven. I want the churches to pray for their salvation!”

Her statements seemed odd to me at first. Then I realized what she meant: our Lord said, Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” (Romans 12:19 NAS). This mother knew that God would avenge her sons’ blood and was therefore seeking mercy on their behalf. She had forgiven those men and prayed that God would as well. Like Jesus upon His cross of crucifixion, she was pleading, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!’ As I listened to this account of the persecuted church, the Lord spoke to my heart. “Would you – could you –forgive even this?”

I wanted to say, without hesitation, “Yes Lord!” But the truth is, I am not certain whether I could or not. One never knows what they will do in certain situations until faced with it. My childhood and adolescence was excruciatingly painful, yet I learned to completely forgive my tormenters. However, my own experiences pale in comparison to those of the persecuted church in other lands. How would I handle this kind of agony – the cold-blooded murder of my precious children? Could I truly forgive and ask that God’s revenge for them be salvation and eternal life in Heaven for their murderers? I pray so.

Then, I listened intently to the speaker’s own powerful testimony. He was born and raised in the same hate-riddled part of the world as this woman was. In fact, it was he who encouraged her to flee. He managed to do so himself, but not until he was imprisoned five times and inflicted with such inhumane tortures as being hung upside down, beaten with metal cable, and having boiling oil poured on his feet.

Yet he more than forgave –he learned to see them through God’s eyes and love them as He does! For the past thirty-plus years of his life, this man has been involved with an evangelistic ministry and continues to minister to the people in and around his homeland – even those barbaric non-believers who torture and kill Christians.

As he recounted his own sufferings, I couldn’t help but smile every time he said, “We must continue to have the faith of Jesus!” You see, with his still-thick accent, he pronounced the word faith as ‘face.’

Yes, my brother, we desperately need the face of Jesus! I was reminded, as he spoke, of Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

It is only by the grace of God, by His countenance upon us, that we can ever find healing for a heart that has been shattered. It is only by forgiveness that we can find true peace. And it is only by loving our enemies that we can pray with utmost sincerity, ‘Forgive them Father; they know what they do.’

May we, the body of Christ, never forget to pray daily for the persecuted church AND for those who persecute us!

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The prison official said no, under no circumstances would she be allowed to have visitation with the man who had brutally raped her and left her for dead. He reluctantly agreed, though, as she meekly shared all that was in her heart and explained why she had come to see this monster. She later recounted the details of her visit with him in a television interview.

As the audience sat breathless and teary-eyed, she detailed the painful events of that heinous day, which she had tried so often to erase from her memory. It had started as an ordinary, enjoyable day. But several hours later, she was found unconscious from the severe beating and knife wounds inflicted upon her, and that after she had been brutally raped. She spent a great deal of time in the hospital, and then she too went to prison – but hers was a prison of fear and of anger. Afraid to leave her own home, she became reclusive and distrusting of everyone, even her own friends and family.

Life as she knew it had ended for this now emotionally damaged innocent. Each day she had slipped farther into depression and agony of spirit, unable to find even the slightest glimmer of hope or joy no matter how desperately she desired it. Knowing that she could no longer live like that, she began taking difficult steps down an unfamiliar path; a path which had slowly brought her to a place of healing.

As she continued to relay her experiences, my mind flooded with painful memories of my own, as I too had been dealt some pretty serious blows in life. This woman and I had at least one thing in common; we both had to figure out how to forgive the unforgiveable. Obviously, we were both well on our way to doing so, but there was such an air of confidence in this woman that I was intrigued.

The woman then explained that visiting her assailant in his prison would be the final step for her to walk out of her own. Politely declining one last chance to change her mind, she sat there behind the glass partition looking into the man’s face for the first time. She almost felt violated anew by the cold, steely stare of a man who was clearly pleased with what he had done. His mouth was upturned in a sinister grin of satisfaction and his posture was smug.

She never offered him a chance to speak though. She had the control this time. I cannot tell you verbatim what she said, because this interview was nearly twenty years ago, but this is the essence of what she told him:

“I don’t know why you did what you did, nor do I care. The day you raped me was the worst day of my life. You stole that entire day from me, and so many after. Consequently, your savage act forced me into a different kind of prison, but a prison nevertheless. Even so, I have come here today to tell you that I forgive you.”

“I don’t want your forgiveness!” he interrupted angrily.

“I don’t care,” she responded calmly. Keeping her cool, she then explained that forgiving him was not for his benefit but hers alone. “I forgive you!” she repeated, “And I hope that God will too, but that is entirely up to you.”

Standing, she said her final words. “You stole more from me than you will ever know, but this much is certain: Because I forgive you, it’s all over. You cannot ever steal another day from me, not even another minute! You will be locked-up in this prison for a very long time; and rightly so. I, however, am now free to live the rest of my life happily and in peace.” With that, she walked out, head held high.

I don’t know if that man ever regretted what he did or repented of it, but I am positively convinced that this woman was no longer his victim. A rapist does not do what he does for sexual satisfaction. His satisfaction comes in being able to ruin a life, and his power comes from knowing that her subsequent bondage allows him to maintain his control over her. By forgiving him, she knowingly castrated his power.

Tonight, in a worship service, I sat behind a man who testified that God was helping him to forgive others. I was reminded of this woman’s story and felt prompted to share it with you. Perhaps you have never been physically attacked in such a brutal manner, but most all of us have experienced some kind of attack, physical or emotional, that has left us damaged in some way.

I hope that you have been able to forgive all trespasses against you, but if this has proven too difficult, remember that forgiveness is for your benefit-not theirs. We seldom have control over being victimized, but we can most assuredly take control of our lives and refuse to be victims any longer. It’s your choice, either you can choose to let unforgiveness imprison your heart, or you can confidently say, “No more, you cannot steal even one more day!”

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