Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reconciling in the Real World

(This photo comes from Photographer Greg Kemp.  He is a great artist right here in our church!  Check him out at

Since the sermon Sunday, I have been hearing about a lot of lively discussion in Life Groups. One good way to ignite conversation is to deal with a touchy topic.  I'm glad to know that the sermon got us thinking!

I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions that I keep hearing, but couldn't address in the limited time Sunday.  

  1. What is the difference between "forgiveness" and "reconciliation"?  Forgiveness has to do with the condition of your heart.  Mark 11:25 indicates that you can forgive a person without going to them.  It means not counting their offense against them or wiping their slate clean.  Reconciliation is interactive.  Mathew 5:24 indicates we have to "go" reconcile.  It is when you go to them to ask for forgiveness or when you let them know they are forgiven.  It is the outward communication of the condition of your heart.  
  2. Does reconciling mean that the relationship goes back to the way it was?  No! In fact, the relationship has to change.  Chances are, the relationship was not healthy before the hurt.  Whether you are closer after the reconciliation or not, the relationship must be different. Reconciliation means the slate is clear and everyone knows.  No one is holding grudges.  It doesn't mean forcing a close relationship.  In some cases (abuse especially) the danger of returning to a toxic relationship may require limiting the relationship in order to avoid temptation.  However, the purpose must be avoiding temptation, not grudge-holding.  It all comes back to motives.  A good test of motives is to ask yourself: "Do I want good things for this person?"  If not, you may be holding a grudge.  
  3. What about abuse? I don't want to sound uncaring, but 1 John 4:20 still applies.  I cannot pretend that forgiveness is easy when abuse is involved, but it is possible and it is necessary.  I can't say I know what it is like to be abused, but Christ does.  If we refuse to forgive based on the severity of the offense, its like saying that God's grace isn't big enough to cover it.  I have known of some who keep citing how bad the hurt is.  At some point, we have to forgive, otherwise our relationship with God and our healing will be stunted.  Forgiveness here is a long and painful process, but it is what God has called us to do, and He is there to carry us through.  In these circumstances, I highly recommend counseling.  Feel free to contact me for a referral if this is where you are.  Forgiveness and healing is possible.  It just isn't easy.  
  4. Does forgive mean forget?  I don't know that we can completely "forget" our hurts.  In fact, usually the deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forget.  However, we can choose not to remember it.  In Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 God chooses to "not remember" our sin.  This doesn't mean that all-knowing God forgets it. It means he doesn't bring it up.  The same word for "remember" is used in Genesis 9:14-15 to refer to God remembering a covenant.  It wasn't that he forgets the covenant and suddenly remembers.  It has to do with His intentional act of remembering.  We can do the same thing.  When we choose to remember or intentionally bring up (in our minds or in conversation) the hurt, we aren't really forgiving.  That's a problem.  (By the way, some translations say God casts our sins into a "sea of forgetfulness"--Micah 7:19.  God is all-knowing.  He doesn't "forget".  The phrase is actually to be translated "depths of the sea" as we see in the ESV and NASB).  Not remembering means not ever intentionally bringing it up.  However, forgiveness is a process.  The deeper we are hurt, the more our memory is triggered by the things we associate with the hurt.  It's like a broken bone.  We may forget that it is still healing until we bump it and feel the pain again.  We can forgive, but when the hurt shows up (different than us bringing it up), we have to forgive and put it away again.  This is a process that could happen in a moment or again and again over years.  Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting.  
There are three very important things to remember in reconciliation.  First, it is possible.  Second, it is a process.  This is why counselling is so valuable.  When in doubt, go to counseling.  I've been.  It just helps as you walk through the forgiving/healing process.  Third, reconciliation doesn't mean abandoning all relational boundaries.  I can recommend a classic book here.  If you are working through how to interact with a person you have forgiven and don't know how to maintain the relationship in a healthy way, I recommend Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  You can order it below.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

God Wins (Part 2)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedPopular Christianity seems have moved closer to ambiguity lately.  Questions, doubt and unknowns seem to have replaced truth, certainty and answers.  Doubt has become the new truth.  The growing opinion is that certainty=pride.

I have certainly known my share of arrogant theologians.  Blind certainty is no virtue.  None of us are comfortable with an unyielding debater who wants us to agree with him "because I said so."  But, does uncertainty really fix the problem?  I could be arrogantly walk off a cliff because I can't see it and refuse to believe it is there.  Or, I could stumble around in ignorance until I fall off the cliff I still didn't know was there.  The results are the same, regardless of my level of pride.  

The truth is certainty can be humble, because humility acknowledges the truth.  In this way, only the humble can be justifiably certain, because they submit themselves to the Truth rather than place themselves at the center of knowledge.  From the beginning of creation, man has wrestled with this fundamental question of surrender.  Have you ever thought about the fact that in Genesis, the Serpent begins his deception with the question: Has God really said...?

The Enemy's first step in bringing every sin, every death, every atrocity into this world was to make uncertain what God had made certain.  

He didn't stop there.  He followed his question with a statement: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil."  Satan invited Eve to jettison her certainty in God's revelation, so she could make herself the center of knowledge.  The lie that ushered sin into the world was that we could choose what is right for ourselves.  the Serpent says, "God's Word is uncertain. You must choose for yourself what is right and wrong."  Have you ever thought about what the world would be like if we didn't try to make unclear what God has made clear?

I am not so naive as to believe that everything is clear, that we should never  be uncertain.  The fact is there are a myriad of issues we cannot know with certainty.  There is no imperative to make certain what is uncertain.  It really doesn't matter that much if Adam and Eve had bellybuttons or if the army from the east in Revelation is China or Russia or some other unknown country.  What matters is a few fundamental and clearly revealed truths about God and our relationship with Him. 

Put simply, what matters is Jesus Christ and everything that is necessary to know Him.  These are the things that are quite clear in Scripture.  A face value reading with no re-interpretation of parables or poetry, with no effort to translate Greek words outside the context they were written in will give you the basic fundamentals of the faith (The Deity of Christ, His Resurrection, the Truth of Scripture, etc.).  The existence of Hell is one of those clear principles.  God says there is eternal punishment for those who don't know Christ (Matthew 25:46).  If we ignore this, we allow people to think that they will be okay even though they reject Christ.  It is a serious offense to let a man on his way to an eternity in Hell think that he is safe.  

The same can be said of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ.  Jesus said, "No man comes to the father except through me" (John 14:6).  It's a clear statement, one with eternal consequences.  There is no room for blurry lines here.  Gandhi did some good things, but if he never surrendered his life to Christ, he went to Hell.  Nice guys who love their families but don't know Christ still go to Hell.  Our good works get us nowhere (Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8).  God is clear about this.  

Certainty blurred to uncertainty has eternal consequences in this regard.  

Having read Love Wins, I can confidently say that Rob Bell never takes a universalist stance.  The reason I can say this with confidence is that Rob Bell does not take a confident stance on much of anything.  I could say that "Rob Bell strongly hints at poetic imagery that probably suggests that universalism is probably a better story that really, really seems to probably be what Rob Bell thinks he might probably believe."

On the one hand, I appreciate that he seems somewhat open on the topic.  On the other hand, if he wasn't going to say anything, he could have saved me $11 and not written the book in the first place.

Uncertainty is no virtue.

In a recent interview Martin Bashir confronts Rob Bell with some hard questions, uncomfortable, unpopular questions about God and human suffering.  (You can watch the video by clicking here.)  Some have argued  that Bashir was a little bit hostile in the interview.   I'm not sure it matters.  The world never guarantees us easy questions or comfortable settings.  In fact the hard questions almost always come with a bite, because the questioner is hurting and needs an answer, a certain one.  Rob Bell didn't have a certain answer for Martin Bashir.

My intention is not to attack Bell or to state all the things he should have said.  The fact is, interviews are difficult.  You usually finish thinking about all the things you wished you'd said.  Don't judge him for not being quick with words under pressure.  It's not easy to take on the biggest apologetic question in history on national television.

The point here is not Bell's mistake.  The point is that a certain answer would have been a lot better than an uncertain one.

Bashir wanted an answer.  The viewers wanted an answer.  The world wants an answer. I think even Bell wanted an answer.

Certainty has its place.  It is evidenced in our disappointment when we can't think of the right thing to say.  It is evidenced in the poignant questions of reporters.  It is evidenced when the bomb squad technician says "green wire."

We want answers.  We need the truth.  

We embrace uncertainty when we lose our source of truth and place ourselves at the center of knowledge.  We are afraid to have to defend our opinion, because we can't back it up.  So, we keep saying "I'm not sure about this" in one way or another.  It's not an effective way to handle a debate, and it's not an effective way to speak the gospel to a desperate world.  

There is some good news.  God never puts us in a situation to have to defend our opinion.  Our role as believers is to simply point to what He says, and let His Word stand.  It really is that simple.  I don't have to go in circles.  I can speak the Word of God with certainty, knowing it is true.  God said it.  I can certainly show my evidence for why I believe it is His word, but I don't have to defend it with explanations.  I don't have to prove God according to a limited, human definition of love.  I simply speak His Word and let His truth stand.  

God doesn't want us to be uncertain.  He wants us to be humble.  Humility, in the context of truth means putting God (not one's self) at the center of knowledge.

If you are interested in digging into this topic of revelation at an academic level, have a look at Has God Said? by John Douglas Morrison.  Great book on the topic!