Saturday, July 5, 2014

Looking Into the Future

This is me today and, according to some age-progressing software, this is me 25 years from now ― if I make that far.

Some Birthday Quotes on Aging:

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ― Mark Twain

“Twenty-three is old. It's almost 25, which is like almost mid-20s.” ― Jessica Simpson

“Maybe it's true that life begins at fifty. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.” ― Phyllis Diller

“Everyday is one less day.” ― Tom Ford

“A life can change in a tenth of a second. Or sometimes it can take 70 years.” ― Charles Bukowski

“Your whole life is ahead of you.” ― Eleanor Brownn

“If I knew I was going to live so long, I'd have taken better care of myself.”― Mickey Mantle

“I'm falling into disrepair” ― Anne Tyler

“It happens to everyone and it happens fast.” ― Joseph Hansen

"Perhaps one has to be very old before one learns to be amused rather than shocked." ― Pearl S. Buck

"One pleasure attached to growing older is that many things seem to be growing younger; growing fresher and more lively than we once supposed them to be." ― G. K. Chesterton

“George Macdonald said, 'If you knew what God knows about death you would clap your listless hands', but instead I find old people in North America just buying this whole youth obsession. I think growing older is a wonderful privilege. I want to learn to glorify God in every stage of my life.” 
― Elisabeth Elliot

"Autumn is really the best of the seasons; and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life." ―C.S. Lewis

“I have seen it time-after-time:  whatever we pack in while we are young will ooze back out when we are old. These can be the graceful years or the grumpy years. We either get better or we get bitter.”  ― Randy Booth

“Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.  Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” 
― 2 Peter 1:13-15

"The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
― Psalm 92:12-15

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Gospel of Healing

As I grow older I’m becoming more and more painfully aware of the brokenness of my body, and human bodies in general. Sometimes I go to bed feeling pretty good and then wake up feeling like something really bad happened to me while I was asleep. Conversations with my peers include an increased number of references to medical issues. I’m constantly hearing of some new thing (which, in some cases, I didn’t even know existed), that can go wrong with the body.  When we’re young, we’re often oblivious to what is already at work in our dying bodies. If this situation were limited to the physical body it would be alarming enough, but the problem runs much deeper than this.

The body’s brokenness is symptomatic of something more fundamental or foundational. Our souls are broken as well; broken from the beginning.  Sin originates in the heart [soul] and works its way out. “the wages of sin is death…” Rom. 6:23); its poison defuses itself until every corner is affected, like a drop of poison in a glass of water. Each of us is broken psychologically and emotionally. There are books filled with descriptions of these kinds of “disorders.” “Disorder” is a good word to describe our condition. Even if we can’t find an official psychological or emotions malady with its own label, none of us should be so self-deceived as to think that we have somehow escaped this universal effect of the Fall. Our irrational fears, anxieties, depression, insecurities, anger, crankiness, etc. are all indicators that something is terribly wrong with us. No matter how hard we try to cover these maladies of the soul they refuse to go away completely.

Ailments of the body can sometimes be ignored or lived with, but if they grow worse we will usually seek a remedy through better eating, exercise, medicine, surgery, etc.  Great amounts of time and money are poured into trying to avoid, remedy or repair our broken bodies. We need our bodies to live. Sometimes people are reduced to simply trying to cover-up the physical symptoms with drugs that numb the pain.

Soul remedy requires us to seek something much bigger but it always begins by recognizing the problem. We will never seek the remedy as long as we are covering up the truth. The gospel of grace is the only solution; coming to the Great Physician; touching the hem of His garment with faith. Being forgiven by God (and others) is where relief begins, and this relief is sudden and dramatic. Why did we resist it for so long? It isn’t hard. It isn’t even painful. It is nothing but overwhelming joy. There will still be rehab that needs to be done, but the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God by way of His church will nurse us back to health until it is finished. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Full of Care

One recurring threat to an otherwise happy relationship is carelessness. Other threats might come from malice, selfishness or other intentional motivations, but not being careful to nurture falls into a different category. Sometimes we excuse ourselves of such neglect by say that we “didn’t mean to do this or that.” Being careful requires much more. To be full of care demands that we pay attention to the needs of others and not neglect the nurture our family and friends. It’s easy to take one another for granted and to forget to show gratitude. When someone is being a stinker, when they’re annoying us, they get our attention and usually receive some form of complaint. When someone is being faithful and diligent in routine things they can easily fade into the background. We want to fix the broken things but sometimes forget to praise the things that aren't broken. Our lives are filled with background blessings.

In a good family or in a good church (which is a big family), here are some of the things that happen on a regular basis that we should thank God for and thank people for: faithfulness, kindness, sacrifice, food, shelter, paychecks, clean clothes, chores, laughs, comforts, fellowship, worship, prayer, instruction, hugs and kisses, etc. Thank your wife for all she does, day-in and day-out to manage your household. Thank your husband for going to work and coming home every day. Thank your children for jobs well done. Thank your parents for giving you everything you have. As a pastor, I want to thank my congregation for their routine faithfulness and for the joy they bring to me every time I see them, and I see them often. You are amazing. You are remarkable. You are the best!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Powers of Praise and Criticism

Praise is powerful in more ways than we might think. There is the obvious encouragement that comes from sincere praise, the false inflation that comes from flattering praise, the insecurity that comes from faint praise, and the discouragement that comes from praise withheld. Actual criticism is another matter as it too can serve to help, hurt or destroy. Motives do matter. Calvin Coolidge observed: “The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise and they have been spoiled with abuse.” This is a problem, for all “public” men. Self-evaluation is never safe by itself, and the swirl of opinions that surround public men can leave them either over-inflated or discouraged; or worse, fluctuating between both. Sometimes it’s hard to know who to believe. Regardless, preachers need to work harder to present sound, interesting and powerful sermons.

The issues here involve way more than the preacher and his sermons; they also involve the people who are receiving the messages. Their own hearts are always added to the mix. It’s possible to have ears and to not hear, or to hear things that were not said. Was the sermon just for you or was it intended for everyone but you? Was it overly pointed or right to the heart of the matter? Did you think it would never end or were you disappointed that it stopped so soon? These are the kinds of responses preachers get, sometimes from the very same sermon. Both sensitive and insensitive souls are usually present. Some are generous with praise, while others are sparing and, for some, it has apparently never crossed their mind.

There is one form of praise and criticism that is always present while a sermon is being delivered; the same form that is present when anyone speaks i.e., body language. There are moments (for most preachers), when they know that they have everyone’s attention: all eyes are fixed; no extraneous activities; everyone is focused. Now we must readily acknowledge that most everyone has an occasional bad Sunday when they don’t feel well or had little sleep or are under the influence of antihistamines.  Exceptions noted. There is, however, a class of folks who voice their disapproval on a weekly basis with their eyes closed, arms folded or by other expressions of their disregard. Some are more subtle than others. How then should this be interpreted? Is this a deliberate attempt to communicate their disinterest, disapproval and disdain, or are they simply oblivious to how it looks from the front. Would they do this if they were up front and everyone was looking at them or is their body language intended for the preacher’s eyes only? It’s distracting at best and it’s often discouraging. When this is set over against those who are clearly engaged, whose body language and facial expressions flow with the content of the sermon, the messages sent are stark in their contrast.

Now I am especially blessed to, on the whole, have a very encouraging congregation that is generous with its praise, honest in its criticism, and engaged in its worship. Of course none of the observations I have made above apply to those to whom they don’t apply. Nevertheless, I have heard other preachers mention such things and it’s hard for preachers to find an opportunity to address these matters without getting themselves into some hot water. Therefore, as a service to those who might be less blessed than me I offer up these comments on their behalf. You are welcomed.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Christian Healthcare Ministries

What is Christian Healthcare Ministries?

Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) is a nonprofit, voluntary cost-sharing ministry through which participating Christians have helped to pay each other's medical bills for more than 30 years. CHM is based on Galatians 6:2 and Acts 2 and 4. In the last 20 years, CHM members have shared more than $1 billion in medical bills. The ministry is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

Bring-a-Friend Referral Program
More members join Christian Healthcare Ministries through the Bring-a-Friend program than through any other method. For every new membership you bring into CHM, you will receive a free month of membership after your friend submits their third monthly financial gift. Those who bring a friend each month can be a part of CHM for free!

If you choose to sign up for Christian Healthcare Ministries it would be appreciated if you would give my name and member number as your sponsor on your application.

Robert Booth ― CHM #164980

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Harder Than Hard

Each Lord’s Day, as we come to the Family Table to commune, we are admonished to forgive those who have sinned against us. This is such a priority that Jesus says: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). True reconciliation takes two parties being willing and ready (even eager) to be reconciled with one another, which also requires an honest dealing with past sins. Reconciliation, however, can take place very quickly.

True reconciliation is far more than a truce between two parties. Rather, it’s a full restoration of fellowship and communion. Sometimes we might choose just to be wronged; to overlook an offence (1 Cor. 5:7). In such cases it’s important to just accept the wrong and get quiet about it; no lingering bitterness or holding a grudge. Otherwise we have not accepted the wrong. When we extend forgiveness to another, either by directly granting forgiveness for a sin that was repented of or by covering a sin with love (1 Peter 4:8), then that forgiveness needs to be all the way to the bone, forgiving in the same way that Christ forgives us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Jesus doesn't forgive us and then say “…but I want nothing to do with you.” If there is remaining bitterness or even tension, then true forgiveness has not been granted. Sometimes this harder than hard. For us, it can even seem impossible. Nevertheless, Christian maturity (i.e., Christ-likeness), calls us to this supernatural response. Forgiveness means picking up the tab and paying someone else’s bill. Once it’s paid, it’s paid; no more debt.

It’s easy for our churches or families to become places littered with un-reconciled people; places of tension, or even animosity. There is a time and place for cutting off a contentious person (Titus 3:1), but we must remain open for opportunities to pursue peace and to be truly brought back together in full fellowship and communion with one another. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).

I have been blessed to see many fine examples of this kind of Godly reconciliation, even in some long-standing and very difficult situations. The grace and kindness of God toward us is unbounded and so too should our grace and kindness toward other abound.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Already Knew That

Ok, preachers have a few pet peeves of their own. One of mine is when I have taught a series of lessons on a subject―a series I spent hours of preparation on―someone will come up to me at the end of the series (almost always a young man ― I’ll call him “Joe”), and say something like this:  “Yea, that was good.  I didn’t really hear anything new, but it’s always good to hear it again.” Now this wouldn’t be a problem comment except for the fact that it’s happened several times over the years as well as having been reported to me as having happened to other preachers. In other words, it’s nothing new.

Now I have three issues with this kind of statement.  First, in my own preparation to teach or preach I learned many new things. I don’t know how young Joe could not have heard anything new, or at least gained some new insight into the subject.  I’m willing to be criticized for being dull, but sometimes I think Joe must be dull of hearing.  There’s a certain arrogance being communicated, especially when such a statement comes from a young man.  Second, Joe’s comment is also indicative of the Athenian spirit that the Apostle Paul ran into when he visited Athens: “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). The attraction to novelty is not necessarily good.  Spurgeon said: “If you are original, you are probably wrong.” Old can be boring, but boring can be very good. Listen harder and learn something new.  Third, you have hard it said, “Repetition is the key to learning.”  I know, I’m repeating myself.  We preachers realize that we repeat ourselves. (I think I’m repeating myself right now.)  Parents also repeat themselves.  We do so because there are some important things that need to soak in all the way to the bone, and it appears to us (on occasion), that no matter how many times it has been repeated, it goes in one ear and out the other.  God repeats Himself.  Great leaders have a few good ideas that they repeat over and over.  We’ll stop saying them as soon as everybody is doing them.

Now I feel better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dispelling Hospitality Excuses

The Bible says: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY.” ―Romans 12:9-13

It’s a common trait of humanity (even redeemed humanity), to sit in judgment of God’s word. It all started in the Garden of Eden where our first parents wanted to decide what was and was not good for them. God has some pretty good suggestions, some of which we’re willing to follow, but in other matters we’re going to need to think about it a bit more. We do need to be pragmatic. God’s word might work out for a lot of people but sometimes my extenuating circumstances lead me to conclude that it’s not going to work for me. There are exceptions to the rules which can exempt me.

Now hospitality isn’t the only area where we’re tempted to think like this but it is one of the common topics where excuses for not following the clear and simple command of Scripture are frequent. Like Adam and Eve, we think we know better than God what is good for us. Below are several commonplace excuses as to why we can’t be “GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY.” I hope to challenge them all.

1.       I’m Not Good at It.

We’re seldom good at the things we never do. Practice makes perfect. One of the reasons God wants us to be given to hospitality is so that we will get good at it. Less-than-perfect hospitality is still hospitality, and it is still obedience to God. Read a book (e.g., Face to Face, Steve Wilkins). Get some advice. Watch others who are good at it. Ask some questions. You can learn to do this. You can get better at it. But you can’t get better at it if you don’t do it. You know what to do (i.e., be “GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY”), now set out to learn how to do it. If needed, get some help doing it. If you do these things the only reason left for not doing it is, “I don’t want to do it.” That would be a sin.

2.       My House is Too Small.

Your house can’t be that small. It might be crowded but I’m pretty sure that many saints from the past, who were GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY, had houses smaller than yours. If you’re an American, your house is probably bigger than the houses of most of the Christians in the world. Moreover, you don’t even have to have a house to be hospitable; have a picnic!

3.       My House is Too Dirty.

If your house is dirty then there are two options: 1) clean your house; 2) swallow your pride and have people over to your dirty house. The command to be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY is not a conditional command. God doesn’t say, “Be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY if your house is clean.” Cleaning your house is an option; showing hospitality is not an option.

4.       My Stuff Will Be Messed With.

It’s not your stuff; it’s God’s stuff, and He’s ok with His stuff getting messed with. Things are important but not as important as people. Some things will get broken. Spills will happen. You will recover. If there are things that are valuable then put them away. You can get them back out later. Part of being GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY is that you think it through, plan for contingencies, and adjust your attitude toward things. This is one of the reasons God wants us to be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY.

5.       I Can’t Cook.

Yes you can. Perhaps you don’t cook as well as others, but people are better at all kinds of things. Here’s a tip for those who are intimidated about their cooking. Invite folks over for dinner at 6:00. Put out a bag of chips and some tea. About 7:30 boil a package of weenies. Set out some buns, mustard and mayo. Open another bag of chips and invite folks to grab a paper plate. Pray, giving thanks to God for simple meals. At this point everyone is enjoying the hospitality. They’re also very hungry and these will be the best hotdogs they ever had. They might even ask, “What did you do to these weenies? They’re soooo good!” Now if it’s your culinary pride that’s standing in the way, then repent. People don’t really care whether you’re a good cook or not. They do care whether you love them or not, and God cares whether you’re GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY or not.

6.       I Can't Afford It.

Now if you can’t afford a package of weenies, buns and chips, then here are some other options: 1) a private potluck dinner works;  2) beans and rice are cheap; 3) put more water in the soup; 4) have folks over for dessert; 5) have them over after dinner (that’s free). These are some options but being GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY is not an option.

7.       I’m Too Busy.

You are right. If you’re too busy to be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY, then you’re too busy. It’s time to reprioritize your life. Quit something that’s not necessary and put something that is necessary in its place, like hospitality. God doesn’t exempt all the busy people from obey His command. Lots of busy people are hospitable; that’s one of the many things they’re busy doing.

8.       I Stress Out.

I’m guessing that hospitality isn’t the only thing you’re stressed out about. Let me give you a couple of verses to memorize that (when obeyed), will provide some real stress management. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3). One of the reasons God requires you to be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY is to teach you to trust Him.

9.       I Get My Fellowship at Church.

It’s good to get fellowship at church. It’s one of the many reasons you go to church every Lord’s Day (and I’m presuming you do go EVERY Lord’s Day). Fellowship is also one of the things you get when you show hospitality, but it’s not the only thing you and others get. There are some things received from being GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY. Here are a few that come to mind:  1) self-sacrificing service to others; 2) the pleasure of showing love to God and neighbor; 3) humility; 4) instruction and experience; 5) encouragement; 6) friendship; 7) generosity; 8) more intimate knowledge of others; 9) positive impact on your children; 10) you might unwittingly entertain angels (Heb. 13:2).

10.   I'm Special.

You are and you’re not special.  You are special in that Jesus died for you, the Father adopted you into His family, and the Holy Spirit indwells you. All the benefits of the gospel are yours because you’re special. You’re NOT special when it comes to the command to be GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY. God is hospitable toward us and we, as His children are to reflect His work: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2). By showing hospitality we show the love of God to our friends, neighbors and strangers. This is a priority: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” ―1 Peter 4:8-10

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wise Counsel

God puts us in marriages, families, churches and other communities because “it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Our own perspective is extremely limited and thus community affords us the opportunity to gain wisdom that we can’t possibly have in ourselves. Too often we assume that we are self-sufficient when, in fact, we are quite dependent. We need God and we need each other.

Here’s a little thought experiment: imagine yourself to be ten years younger than you are. Now imagine making today’s decisions from that perspective. How much have you learned in the last ten years? A twenty-year-old wouldn't usually get his counsel from fifteen-year-olds but fifteen-year-olds frequently do get their counsel from other fifteen-year-olds. While it’s not necessarily bad to get some counsel from our immediate peers, it’s unwise to limit our counsel to them. We need perspective. C. S. Lewis observed that “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”  He then tells us why this is the case:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it.... To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
This is also true as it pertains to the available counsel that is around us. There are people of all ages in our communities:  parents, aunts, uncles, friends, church members, teachers, business people, etc. who have a wealth of wisdom and whose counsel we need. When we limit ourselves to only a few, especially to those who share our own limited perspective, perhaps we will get the counsel we want but it might not be the counsel we need. Older people are not always wise but they’re often wise, and when we have several of those wise kinds of counselors we greatly increase our odds of making wise decisions. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Pr. 11:14). By the way, it can also be wise for an older person to get some perspective and counsel from a younger person.
When we’re young we can’t see very far down the road. A two-year-old has a hard time seeing tomorrow. A ten-year-old can see two weeks down the road. A fifteen-year-old might see ahead six months to a year, and a twenty-year-old will, perhaps, be able to contemplate five years out. The longer we live the further we can see into the (likely) future. This is what experience does, and sanctified experience (which comes to those who are self-consciously walking with the Lord), produces a growing repository of wisdom. (NOTE: it is possible to be an old fool.)
One way to think about how our perspective changes is to compare a year in the life of a two-year-old to a year in the life of a ninety-nine-year-old. In the first case, on the second birthday of the two-year-old, that one year represents 50% of their life. In the case of the ninety-nine-year-old, that same year represents only 1% of their life. This is one of the reasons that time seems to speed up as we age; each year is a smaller and smaller percentage of our lives. The flip side of this is that wisdom usually accumulates.
If I’m thirty-years-old and I seek counsel from a wise fifty-year-old, this enables me to be wiser than my years; I can tap into God-given resources. The community has an accumulated reservoir of wisdom that has many deposits that have been made. This account awaits my withdrawals if only I’ll take advantage of it. This is why isolation is so dangerous. We can literally isolate ourselves from these communities but we can also isolate ourselves by not making use of what is set before us. “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Pr. 18:1).
Many times, as a pastor, I have recommended to people that they select a few wise counselors from their communities; men and women who have proven themselves and have gained our respect. These can be from a wide range of categories e.g, family, church, business, etc. If,for example, you’re raising children, find more experienced families that are doing a good job; people that love you and who love your children. Go to these wise folks and ask them to serve as your team of counselors and then don’t forget to make use of them. Go with specific issues or questions, and if you don’t have any of those, then just go occasionally and ask for general counsel. “How am I doing?” (You can hurt my feelings.) “What should I be doing?” “What should I be asking that I’m not asking?” Now listen. Take notes. Take counsel. Very few people ever actually take this counsel to get counselors but those who do grow in wisdom.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Holding On

This post addresses a problem that is common to all of us. It seems to be part of the fallen human condition, which means it’s in need of redemption and the sanctifying work of the Spirit. I am grateful for those who have instructed me on this subject, as it has helped me with my own struggles to let go.

Holding on to an offense is one of the strong evidences of a bitter heart, and it’s contrary to the spirit of Christ.  As a self-centered sinner, when someone has offended me (real or imagined); I want to nurse that offense and play the victim. I want to rehearse, over and over, often embellishing the offense with each retelling of the story to myself or others. Now I might (or might not) be a real victim of something, but the question is, what does God say I am to do when I have been offended, or even think I have been offended? Do we find any warrant in Scripture for wallowing or whining?
Now there are some folks who have become life-long victims, with alleged concern for true justice and little concern for true grace. They have a keen memory for the details of old conversations and a catalogue of old offenses they keep close by.  Letting go of such things is thought to be a sign of weakness, when according to Scripture it is the very picture of strength and maturity. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Pr. 19:11). One of the key characteristics of maturity is selflessness; a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus is the prime example of such maturity: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Love and sacrifice go hand-in-hand.  “Love covers all sins” (Pr. 10:12); “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Peter 4:8).

Choosing not to be offended is not natural; it’s supernatural; it’s the work of the Spirit. When struck, I naturally want to strike back. Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39 ). When insulted, I naturally have a few insults of my own that I want to hurl back. Peter writes: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). When I am cursed, I naturally want to give them a piece of my mind.  Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you “(Luke 6:28). That’s not only hard, it’s impossible without the supernatural work of God’s Spirit. Letting go takes a lot of grace. Not letting go carries a high cost: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26). This warning alone should make us drop it like a hot potato!

Now sometimes we’re dealing with real sins, and in such cases we’re called to go to the offender. In that case, however, we’re not going to inflict pain on our offender, we’re going to win our brother; to be restored in fellowship. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). We can be angry, but we may not sin in that anger (Eph. 4:26). At other times we’re dealing, not with real offence, but perceived offense. We’re either mistaken about what actually happened, or in our prejudice, rather than giving a gracious and charitable interpretation, we choose to interpret words or events in the worst possible light. This says far more about our own hearts than anything else. Our holding on to such things enables us to feel justified in our continued animosity, anger, bitterness, and in some cases, our pay-back.

Letting go doesn’t mean that everything the other person did was right. Sometimes, however, there’s a greater right than being right. The offender might not deserve our forgiveness, but of course neither did we deserve forgiveness. Holding on to such things is self-destructive. The container which holds such bitterness is damaged far more than the object on which that bitterness is poured. As long as you are bitter you can never get better. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).

Those who are holding on to such things are often self-deceived (Heb. 3:13). They think it’s hidden when it’s really plain to see. It’s seen in the denial of the bitterness. It’s seen in the face. It’s seen in the attitude. It’s written large because it flows from the heart.  The root is underground but the fruit is out there for all to see.

We mistakenly think it feels good to be the victim. Perhaps we assume it will gain us some sympathy, or it might excuse us from addressing the issues at hand. Following Christ at this point is hard but it’s the only way out. The tension can only be relieved by letting go; by trusting God. The sooner the better!