Wednesday, May 24, 2017
You Can Forgive Your Parents
Article by Marshall Segal
Parents are becoming a common scapegoat, at least in many American circles.
Listen to people explain their weaknesses and failures in life, and consider how often you hear them blame their parents — directly or indirectly, blatantly or subtly. We’ve all heard that the sins of the parents are passed down to their children and their children’s children (Exodus 34:6–7). We’ve also been told over and over that most of our weaknesses as people can be traced to weaknesses in our parents and their parenting.
How much of the trouble you have experienced in life do you (consciously or unconsciously) attribute to your parents (or other family members) — to things they withheld from you, to lessons they hadn’t learned yet, to character flaws in them that haven’t changed, to mistakes they made in raising you, to sins they committed against you?
It can be healthy to uncover the roots of our specific pains or weaknesses — biological, historical, or otherwise — but true healing will never come from identifying causes or assigning guilt, but from trusting God.
Betrayed by Family
Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers, ten of his brothers (Genesis 37:18, 28). Ten of the people he should have been able to trust most in the world, instead conspired first to kill him (Genesis 37:18), and then to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:28).
Perhaps a brother or sister (or father or mother) could do worse to you, but most of our family members are not capable of horrors like these. They plotted to murder him, then left him in a hole to die, then pulled him out of the pit, opting instead to make a little money by selling him into some unknown, lifelong slavery. They had no idea where they were sending their brother. They simply rejoiced that they were finally rid of him, despite how devastating the news would be to their father.
Not You, But God
Years later, God had brought Joseph through slavery into power, then through unjust imprisonment into greater power under Pharaoh. Because of a severe famine in the land, Joseph’s family came from Canaan to buy food in Egypt. As God would have it, they unknowingly landed at their betrayed brother’s feet, begging in desperation for their lives.
“Joseph laid aside the awful weight of resentment, and cast his crushing cares upon God.”
Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, all of them guilty of attempted murder and human trafficking. Suddenly, he was now not only their victim, but also their judge. The story plays out through several interactions between them, but climaxes as Joseph finally reveals his identity to the men. They’re immediately distraught, knowing the evil they have done and realizing the severe punishment they deserved (Genesis 45:3). Joseph’s next words to them are some of the most stunning in all the Bible:
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:4–5)
No, Joseph, don’t you have the history wrong here? Your brothers sold you into slavery, and sent you to die in Egypt. Yet Joseph repeats himself, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).
God Meant It for Good
Seventeen years later, their father Jacob died. The brothers feared Joseph might finally get his revenge against them (Genesis 50:15). In their minds, he was still right to seek retribution, despite the forgiveness and kindness he had extended to them.
Joseph wept with compassion and affection, and then said,
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19–21)
“True healing will never come from assigning guilt, but from trusting God.”
Instead of confronting his would-be murderers, he comforted them. Instead of punishing the men who sold him into slavery, he promised to provide for them and their children. He laid aside the awful weight of resentment and bitterness, and cast his crushing, nightmarish cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7). When his brothers deserved a curse, he chose instead to bless them — taking up his cross for the joy God had set before him.
His surprising patience and kindness with his brothers rings with the apostle Peter’s description of Sarah. When her own husband lied and put her in danger, she “[did] good and [did] not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). She entrusted herself to God, even when she couldn’t entrust herself to Abraham. Joseph entrusted himself — and his brothers — to God, not needing to execute justice or seek vindication himself.
Do you have the faith to forgive your family — your parents (Ephesians 4:32)? Do you have the freedom to let God deal with their offenses against you (Romans 12:19)? Do you have the courage to receive and live the good God has planned for you, however good or bad it might feel in the moment (Romans 8:28)?
Good Deeper Than Pain
Joseph knew God was always working something deeper for him than the betrayal, the slavery, and the imprisonment — a sweetness deeper than any circumstance. But he also saw his suffering in the context of what God was doing for others.
“God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5, 7).
To his brothers: “I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty” (Genesis 45:11).
“God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Maybe the greatest earthly good God will do through the things you have suffered will be in someone else’s life, and not your own. As Paul writes, “Blessed be the . . . God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
None of us asks for that kind of ministry, but it is a beautiful and necessary ministry, to which God calls many. Joseph counted all of his suffering worth it compared with all God did through it for others — every malicious intent in his brothers, every act of mistreatment in slavery, every unjust day in jail. Do you treasure the good God does for others through you that much?
God’s Plan for You
Christian, your parents did not get in the way of God’s plans for you. They were God’s plan for you. Can you look back at your life, with Joseph, and say that? Ultimately, my parents did not send me here; God sent me here. Whatever my parents meant for me, God meant it for good. He did, he is, and he will — in every hardship and in every relationship.
“Christian, your parents did not get in the way of God’s plans for you. They were God’s plan for you.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Joseph did not live for his brothers’ apologies. Their sins against him did not hold him captive all those years, refusing to let him move on. He knew the horrors of captivity well, but he was free from bitterness and resentment, even while his brothers were silent about their guilt. Don’t wait for your parents to apologize before you exercise the freedom Christ has already purchased for you.
Even if they have plotted to murder you or to sell you into slavery, even then they cannot keep God from doing good to you, and through you for others.
Ask Your Child to Forgive You
Article by David Mathis
I will never forget my father asking for my forgiveness. Few moments, if any, were as arresting, as moving, and as unforgettable as when Pop admitted to me — at age five or seven or ten — that he had overreacted, and that he was sorry.
I was most moved, at least in every case I remember, because I was not an innocent victim. My disobedience, rebellion, and immaturity were the catalyst for our clashes. I had sinned first, and I knew I was in the wrong.
But Pop had joined a Bible study, and his heart was becoming more tender to the word of God. He wanted his conduct to come increasingly in line with the gospel he loved. Not just in public, but in private. Not just as a dentist and deacon where the world was watching, but as a father, when only little eyes were watching. He began owning the fact that even his child’s bad behavior was no excuse for a sinful response. He was learning first to recognize and admit his own sin, and remove the adult log from his own eye, in order to be a more careful and patient remover of the childhood speck from mine.
The Emperor’s New Armor
Some of us might worry that making ourselves vulnerable like this to our children will reveal a chink in the armor of parental authority. Surely, we can’t really bring up our children, we tell ourselves, if we have given away our high ground. My experience as a child, and now as a parent of twin six-year-old boys, says this is emphatically not the case.
When I come down on them, with all my adult emotional weight, they can be crushed so easily. But when I come down to them, and stand with them in owning my own sin and recognizing my need for Jesus’s ongoing rescue, then I’m not only modeling repentance before them, but I’m also living the authentic Christian life myself, rather than letting parenting be an excuse for hypocrisy.
I don’t need to be perfect for my children. Jesus has done that. Jesus is that. My children don’t need me to be their perfect savior, but to point them, in honesty about my own sin, to our Savior. In fact, they urgently need to know that I’m not perfect, that my ultimate hope is not in my goodness, but in Jesus’s. I stand with them as a sinner, born in sin, desperately in need of grace. If I try to hide the chink in my armor — and it’s not just a chink, but countless chinks, even gaping holes — I don’t protect them but endanger them. I reinforce the myth we all tell ourselves at some point, that we can be good enough to garner God’s favor.
Three Lessons for Parents
It’s hard to overstate the long-term impact of my father asking me for forgiveness — especially when I was the main one at fault. In my own parenting, I still have so much to learn. Our sons are only six. We have a long road ahead, but the early findings are that my owning and confessing my own sin, especially when I overreact to my children’s disobedience, is already bearing fruit in my relationship with them.
The truth is there are no relationships in which it is strategic to cover my sin, and not own and confess it. If you, like me, want to grow in this kind of humility and initiative as parents, here are three lessons I’m learning in trying to love my sons in light of my sin.
1. God is not just working through me as a parent, but on me.
Being a parent doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated from basic Christian growth, but likely that I’ve entered one of the most important seasons. Parents walk with children through an intense season of physical development, while God walks with parents through an intense season of spiritual development. It’s not a question as to whether we sin against our child. All parents sin against their children. The question is whether we recognize and confess our sin, and ask our children for forgiveness. Far too few of us are ready to do this.
2. True confession is heartfelt, not contrived.
A danger latent in this article is that it might tempt you to calculate certain confessions to your children to produce certain results. You could own up to some fairly admirable weakness, or feign sorrow over some sin, to capture your children’s attention and tug on their heart strings. Such is manipulation, not true confession. When you own your sins and reveal your weaknesses, your children likely will be riveted. (Few things arrest our boys like when I tell stories about the times when “Daddy got a spanking when he was a kid.”)
“God is not just working through me as a parent, but on me.” Tweet Share on Facebook
But genuine confession isn’t results-oriented. It rises from an awareness of the God-belittling ways we have treated our children and from sincerely grieving our failure to live up to our calling. We recognize that we have misrepresented God. He is gracious and merciful; I have been ungracious and exacting. He is slow to anger; I have been short-tempered, erupting in anger at my child’s disobedience. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; I have been stingy and unreliable.
3. Good apologies don’t end with “but.”
The most meaningful conversations with our kids are the ones in which we can confess our own weakness without then turning and putting it back on them. “But when you . . .” Let the apology stand. Give it your best effort — and this can be very hard — to not follow your admission immediately with a “but” that puts the blame back on the child for your sin.
“Good apologies don’t end with ‘but.’”
You are the parent, the adult. It is often the case that your sin is really to blame, in some sense, for sin in your child, not vice versa. Children don’t only have sin natures; they also have sinful parents. Even before our child sins, we often have played our part, by not investing the energy it takes to proactively instruct our children, clearly lay out reasonable ground rules, and graciously communicate expectations.
Yes, apologizing does show our weaknesses — in exactly the way our children need to see them. We “mature” parents do not stand with God on the other side of some great divide far away from our sinful children. We stand with them as sinners, still desperately and consistently in need of God’s grace and his power for change.
If I Fail to Forgive Others, Will God Not Forgive Me?
Interview with John Piper
Welcome to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast. We open with a question from Nick who writes in: “Pastor John, I have been reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. I know that the sermon given by Jesus is meant to reveal the extent of our heart sickness and desperate need for his righteousness. There was one part that really threw me for a loop. Jesus says in Matthew 6:14–15, ‘If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Can you elaborate on what Jesus intends for us to take by saying this? My biggest concern is in my struggle to forgive others. Does this mean that anyone who does not forgive others cannot receive salvation from God?”
Before I say what I think that warning means that you won’t be forgiven by God if you don’t forgive others, let me make sure that Nick realizes that if those verses about the unforgiving being unforgiven threw him for a loop, which is what he says, they threw me for a loop. If those words throw him for a loop, there are others in the Sermon on the Mount that are going to throw him for more loops.
So, for example, Jesus says in 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” So receiving mercy comes to us through our being merciful. That is almost the same as 6:15, which he is being thrown for a loop by. We receive mercy at the judgment if trusting Christ’s mercy has made us merciful.
James puts it this way: “Judgment by God is without mercy to those who have shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). That is, if we show mercy, our judgment will not be condemnation, it will be mercy. That is the same problem, the same issue that he is raising.
Or consider Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell,” which means that failure to make eye gouging war on lust will result in hell. Same issue.
Or consider Matthew 7:16–19: Jesus says that we will know the false Christians by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So, again, he says, “The absence of good fruit in our lives means fire.”
But be sure to look at the words carefully here. Bearing fruit doesn’t make you a good tree. A lot of people quickly jump to the conclusion that if there is some kind of conditionality at the judgment — namely, that you have to bear good fruit, you have to fight lust or you have to be forgiving — then we are somehow making ourselves into a good tree and earning salvation by those fruits. Well, that is insane. The text says, “A good tree bears good fruit.” If you have fruit, you are a good tree, not the other way around. We are not saved by good fruit. The good fruit shows that we are a good tree of faith in Jesus.
One more, or maybe two more: Matthew 7:21–23 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.’”
So ascribing lordship to Jesus doesn't save anyone. We show his lordship by doing the will of his Father. Without this evidence in our lives, we hear the words, “I never knew you.” And then he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who builds his house upon a rock so he doesn’t get swept away at the judgment” (Matthew 7:24). And then he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who builds his house on sand. And at the judgment he gets washed away” (Matthew 7:26).
So, in other words, what threw Nick for a loop in Matthew 6:15 is everywhere. “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Jesus is simply saying what he is saying everywhere else. And the way I would put it is like this: If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, we are not a good tree. We are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing. We haven’t ever felt the piercing, joyful wonder that God paid the life of his Son.
I mean, what in the world could I hold a grudge against somebody when I have not been offended nearly like God has been offended so highly that he has to pay the life of his Son in order for me to be forgiven? That is exactly the point of Matthew 18 with the parable of the unforgiving servant — which is like a parabolic form of Matthew 6:15 — where the servant owes the king a billion dollars. It is just off the charts what he owes and he gets forgiven freely. But then he goes out and he feels it so little, it means so little to him, that he strangles his fellow servant for 10 dollars. And when the king hears about it, he sends him to jail. And Jesus concludes that parable like this: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
And it is not unique to Jesus. It is everywhere in Paul as well. He is talking to Christians here. “Have I not warned you before? Revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Then he adds: “Such were some of you. But you were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). What is a reviler? Somebody who hates and holds grudges and is unforgiving and bitter. People like that don’t go to heaven, not because kindness earns heaven, but because kindness is the fruit of the Spirit which is given to those who have been broken by the love of Jesus and have embraced the sweetness of being forgiven even though we have reviled God.
So when Nick asks, “Does this mean that anyone who does not forgive others cannot receive salvation from God?” the answer goes like this: Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive and we intend to cherish the grudge and fondle the wrong that someone did to me and feel the bitterness. It feels good. I like to go to bed with my wrath at night, because he legitimately wronged me. I am going to hold this against him the rest of his life.
If we think we can be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and not make war on that attitude, we are deluded. So Nick, if you have settled in with bitterness and anger and grudges and you are not fighting this by faith in the mercy of Jesus to you, I hope this episode will unsettle you and give you the freedom in Christ to let it go. “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord. ‘I will repay’” (Romans 12:19). He will settle accounts, Nick. You don’t need to.
Loving Difficult People
Article by Stacy Reaoch
It was only a three-minute escape. Listening to my name being chanted over and over, louder and louder, with greater urgency, along with pounding on the door, you might imagine me to be a rock star.
But in reality, I’m the mother of a toddler who has decided he is only content when he is in my arms. My escape was merely a trip to the bathroom in which I took a deep breath behind the locked door before re-entering my world of diapers, blocks, and Daniel Tiger. And even though I love this little guy with all my heart, at times he can definitely be a difficult person to keep showing love to, especially in the midst of tantrums and tears.
Difficult People Are Everywhere
It probably isn’t hard for you to think of a difficult person in your own life. In our broken, sin-filled world, they are everywhere. The coworker who is willing to do anything to get ahead, including taking credit for your ideas. The in-laws who always seem to be peering over your shoulder, critiquing your parenting skills, and offering “suggestions” for improvement. The child who knows exactly how to push your buttons to leave you exasperated and flustered again. The person in your ministry who is constantly complaining about your leadership, who thinks he has better ideas and communicates them with a sharp and biting tongue. The passive-aggressive friend who is kind one moment and gives you the cold shoulder the next. The list can go on and on.
So, what do we do with these people? With constant strained relationships? Our natural tendency is to want to run the other way, to avoid them as much as possible. But is that what honors God in these hard situations?
Difficult People Have Been Around Forever
“Difficult people are exactly the people we need to intentionally move toward.” Tweet
Moses was no stranger to leading a group of difficult people. Even after rescuing them out of slavery and leading them safely away from the Egyptians, the Israelites were not happy with him. Instead of being grateful for their new freedom and provision from God, they were shedding tears over the menu (Numbers 11:4–6), grumbling about not having water (Numbers 20:2–3), wishing they had died in Egypt and could choose another leader (Numbers 14:2–4). Even Moses’s own siblings were jealous of his leadership (Numbers 12:2) and complained to God about their brother and his Cushite wife.
Yet what amazes me about Moses is that he didn’t retaliate against this annoying group of people. He didn’t even defend himself against the harsh accusations. Instead, he demonstrated amazing humility and compassion on those he led, repeatedly interceding for them.
Moses pled with God to heal Miriam’s leprosy (Numbers 12:13). He begged God to forgive Israel’s unbelief when it was time to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:19). He lay prostrate before God, fasting forty days and nights after Aaron and the Israelites had made the golden calf to worship (Deuteronomy 9:13–18).
Admittedly, there were moments when the Israelites’ constant complaints drove Moses to the brink of despair (Exodus 5:22; Numbers 11:14–15), yet by God’s grace he persevered. And even at the very end of his life, he was still lovingly leading the disobedient Israelites.
Keep on Loving
Moses remained steadfast to his last days and made sure God had another leader in place to take over. He didn’t want his wandering sheep to be without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16–17). Moses never stopped loving them, even at their worst.
“Ask God for grace not to run away, but to keep engaging in love that hard-to-love person.”
By God’s grace, we too can keep loving the difficult people God has placed in our lives. The easy thing is to cut the troublesome person out of your life when possible, or just avoid them at best.
But I suggest we are more like our patient and loving Savior when we bear with each other and seek to show mercy and kindness, no matter how we are treated.
Here are six practical ways, among many others, to show love to a difficult person God has placed in your path.
1. Pray for your own heart.
Ask God to soften your heart towards this person, to put off anger and irritability, to put on meekness and kindness, to understand this person’s struggles and meet them with compassion (Colossians 3:12–14).
2. Pray for them.
Ask God to be at work in their hearts, drawing unbelievers to himself and sanctifying believers to become more like Jesus (Philippians 1:9–11).
3. Move toward them, not away from them.
Although our tendency is to want to steer clear of people with whom we have strained relationships, they are exactly the people we need to be intentionally moving toward. Find ways to engage them in conversation, meet them for coffee, send them a text.
4. Find specific ways to bless and encourage them.
Write them a note of appreciation. Buy them a book that has been an encouragement to you. Tell them you are praying for them.
5. Give them grace, just as God extends grace to you.
Remember God’s lavish grace poured out for your own daily sins. Ask God to help you bear with them, forgiving them, as he has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13).
6. Realize that you too could be the difficult person in someone else’s life!
You might not even realize that you are a thorn in the flesh for someone close to you. Don’t be oblivious to your own shortcomings and sins.
So, when that child has you on the brink of tears, or you’ve just received a harsh and critical email about your ministry, or you’re confronted with that extended family member who drives you up the wall, ask God for grace not to run away, but to keep engaging that hard-to-love person in love.
God will be honored and our hearts will find deeper satisfaction as we seek to love people just as Christ loved us when we were his enemies.
A Statement Stronger Than Silver
Article by Marshall Segal
Today the NBA declared war on racism when commissioner Adam Silver banned franchise owner Donald Sterling from the league for life because of ten minutes of ignorant and offensive remarks recorded and recently released to the public. Silver’s historic decision exceeded what most experts had expected and said loudly to all who will hear, “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”
A Not So Sterling Record
To be clear, Sterling’s racism has not been in hiding. He’s been sued more than once for refusing to rent to blacks or Hispanics, and that isn’t the beginning or the end of his offenses against minorities. He is a proven, unapologetic, and now banned racist. Sadly, his money has apparently been able to cover his offenses in the past. This weekend his racism was broadcast to the listening world and is now receiving its just punishment — at least as much judgment as the National Basketball Association and the media can levy.
In this most recent and most controversial conversation, the 80-year-old Sterling told his twenty-something girlfriend that she shouldn’t post pictures online with black people like Ervin “Magic” Johnson — one of the most beloved and successful black men in America — or bring “them” to the basketball games. It was the kind of disrespect and abuse that makes even our reality-television-hungry, anything-goes society gasp and call for disciplinary action.
The Silver Hammer
And Adam Silver has taken action. It was announced today that, effective immediately, Sterling has been banned for life from any involvement in NBA activities. He was fined $2.5 million, which is the maximum amount allowed. Silver also assured everyone that he would do everything in his power, with the cooperation of the other owners, to force Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.
Silver’s statement was appropriately strong and decisive. Don, you and your money do not belong in our league or in our buildings. Even in a world ruled by money, your racism can render a billionaire penniless and unwelcome. In these arenas and front offices, we believe in and will guard the equal and valuable worth of all men and women regardless of racial or ethnic background.
The Gospel’s Press Conference
The swift and decisive condemnation will be celebrated by most across America, as it should be. Praise God for the progress our nation has made in striving for and experiencing racial reconciliation. The horrific injustices of our history are awful beyond imagination and ought to make us shudder today. And we can rejoice in a rising generation so comfortable with cultural and racial diversity that these comments almost universally shock, offend, and appall.
But as good as the news will feel for many — myself included — it pales in comparison to the gospel’s message in light of the Donald Sterling scandal. When we’re tempted to think judgment has been served, God has something more sure, more powerful, and more lasting — better — to say.
A Better Message for Minorities
First, the underlying message in Silver’s statement was that people of every racial or ethnic background — fan, player, coach, or owner — are embraced by this league. The NBA is a little society united by a love for freedom, money, entertainment, and basketball. That they’ve found ways to encourage and preserve diversity on those terms is commendable. Fortunately for us, the gospel gives us stronger ground to stand on in our efforts to reconcile what sin has corrupted in our differences.
** 1. We are all created by one God for one great purpose.**
God’s word says we were all created in his image, designed to display his unthinkable beauty and worth. Any woman or man on this earth has been endowed with the unique and inescapable purpose of picturing God Almighty, maker and sustainer of our planet and everything living on it.
2. We are all condemned before God by our own corruption.
We’re united in purpose, and we’re united in desperation. “None is righteous” before God, “no not one” (Romans 3:10). If racism offends us as much as it does — and should — consider what it means for us to disrespect and insult God himself with our sinful attitudes, desires, and behavior. If someone at TMZ were to parade our most selfish and prideful thoughts, it wouldn’t take ten minutes to prove our guilt and shame. And there wouldn’t be a ban or fine strong enough to vindicate God’s name and worth.
In our desperation before God, horrifically, we find ourselves in Sterling’s sin-stained shoes. Apart from Christ and without his undeserved and overwhelming grace, my heart really is as black as Don’s. We can’t believe that he could say such awful things so calmly and matter-of-factly. Stupidity and ignorance don’t quite describe that kind of prejudice. But at the very same time, you and I have thoughtlessly and consistently wronged God himself and welcomed his wrath. The disgust we feel with Sterling is only a faint shadow of what we would feel if we could see the way we treat God.
We all without exception find ourselves condemned and needy, and so we ought to be able to find sympathy and compassion for our fellow sinners of whatever race.
3. We are all redeemed and reconciled by one sovereign Savior and Judge.
But the union isn’t really born until we’ve been redeemed. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one finds full, lasting, trustworthy reconciliation — whether with God or with one another — apart from him. Money can’t buy this kind of justice and healing, and public policy alone can’t create and enforce it. It’s one thing to put on a Clippers jersey and sit next to one another at a basketball game. It’s a whole different thing to enjoy true peace, freedom, and joy together forever before the God who made us and meant to get worship in our gospel reunion across racial boundaries.
A More Devastating Punishment for Racists
The real Good News is better, and the bad news gets worse. Those who sin against God and others by dragging human dignity through the refuse of their racism — and refuse to repent — spend eternity paying for it. No one’s suggesting Adam Silver takes racism lightly. And no one will suggest that of God either. He will demonstrate the preciousness of his image when he crushes every racist rebellion.
Racism — like every other sin — can be nailed to the cross of Christ and completely forgiven if someone turns from their ignorance and finds life in the Truth. But if we don’t repent, God’s wrath will do what we wouldn’t let Christ’s death do. It will execute just and unimaginable punishment. We don’t have to worry whether Donald Sterling will get what he deserves. Either we’ll learn that his sentence fell on Jesus — and we’ll rejoice — or he’ll himself receive every ounce of divine retribution for his racism.
Without a doubt, there are some instances of racism — the good-hearted, bad-minded kind that any of us could be guilty of at any given moment — that should be treated with patient and gentle correction. But there is a radical, unrepentant, and unapologetic racism that cannot be condemned enough in this life and will be dealt with by God with a never-ending death.
Speak It Like Silver
On a day when we heard Adam Silver bring the NBA’s swift, decisive, and powerful statement regarding race and human dignity, let’s be encouraged and inspired not to be silent in the face of racism and injustice when it shows its ugly face.
Reconciled by the blood of Christ, filled with one and the same Spirit, and armed with God’s very words, we are standing on stronger ground and with more at stake. So let’s be about realizing — in our responses and relationships — all of the realities that Jesus purchased with his death and announced in his gospel.
Your Wounds Do Not Define You
Article by MaryLynn Johnson
Words and actions are powerful. They can build people up, or tear them down. They can pour out love, or breed hate. They can establish trust, or destroy it. They can soothe deep and powerful wounds. Or they can create them.
Most of us have experienced wound-inflicting words or actions from other people at some point in our lives. The pain creates a burden we feel forced to carry. The lies are easy to believe. The hurt feels inescapable. Freedom seems hopeless as the scars threaten to resurface and bring a cloud of resentment.
Where do we find hope for real healing and the strength to forgive?
God grieves with us when others harm us. He wants to help us lay down the burden those wounds have caused so that we can step forward in grace and freedom. It does not guarantee complete healing will come right away, but it does mean we can open ourselves to Christ’s work in our hearts, as he carries us through this valley one day at a time.
Wounds Will Lie About You
Two of the greatest burdens of hurtful words or actions are bitterness and guilt. They cause us to suddenly see ourselves differently, with a distorted perspective. Beneath the anger, we’re tempted to believe the negative remarks and question our worth. We blame ourselves for the wrongs others have done to us. After a while, the distortion becomes pervasive, and it can seep into other areas of our life.
Each time we choose to see ourselves through the lens of our wounds, we refuse the opportunity to look at ourselves through God’s eyes. No one else has the authority to define who you are. He created you. He says that you are made in his image (Genesis 1:27), redeemed and restored because of Christ (Galatians 4:4–5), co-heirs along with Christ (Romans 8:17), dearly loved (Romans 5:8), and valued beyond measure (Matthew 10:29–31). Whatever your story, the Lord of heaven and earth longs for you to see yourself in that light.
When we’ve been deeply wounded, we should not walk through these doorways of distortion into isolation. It is not shameful to ask for help from a fellow believer who will speak the truth to us. Allow them to remind you again that the offense against you wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t your fault. No one should have treated you that way. And God can be trusted with this hurt. You can bring every piece of your tattered heart and place it at his feet, knowing he feels the sting of this brokenness, trusting his perfect justice, and believing in his relentless desire to make you whole with his love.
The words people hurl at us are like destructive bricks flying in our direction. We cannot control if they will be thrown, and we cannot control how they will bruise us. But it is our choice to pick up those bricks and carry them with us, allowing them to weigh us down and multiply the harm they caused. Even one can become so overwhelming that it takes up precious space in our hearts that can no longer be filled with God’s fullness.
The wounds are real. The bricks are real. Each one represents a profound hurt that may be difficult to put down. Still, bitterness and guilt do not have to be part of the story any longer. We can choose to leave the bricks on the ground and halt the damage.
At times, carrying around the bricks feels easier because it creates the illusion of justified anger. But our anger will accomplish nothing except for devouring our hearts with a heavy weight that will keep us from experiencing the life and joy Christ desires for us. Faith and forgiveness are the only ways to lay down the burden.
In the beginning, the choice to forgive may only last a few moments before we find ourselves attempting to pick up the brick again. That’s why we have to make a continual commitment to forgive and entrust the situation to God — renewing that commitment each time bitter feelings, anxious thoughts, and ideas of worthlessness or revenge come creeping into our mind.
Wounds don’t heal overnight. Some of them burn off and on for years. Forgiveness is not an easy choice. But it will set us free.
How Should We Respond?
When we’ve been hurt deeply, it’s difficult to see how we might have hurt others with our own words and actions. People who are wounded often lash out at others. We can help end the cycle by being kind and cautious as we interact with others. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Grace.
Our words should be full of grace toward others, even when they have harmed us or treated us wrongly. It’s tempting to sling cutting words right back at those who have hurt us, but grace brings more healing than vengeance. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32), continually moving forward, and wishing no harm on others. If we have made that mistake, we should seek repentance and accept the grace given to each of us by Christ.
The road to laying down the burden of deep wounds might seem long and difficult. It may be hard to imagine finally letting go of something that has weighed you down for so long. But Christ longs to exchange our burdens for freedom. He wants to help us step out of the dark and bring healing to our heart.
Christ has so much more to offer us than the bricks we carry.
Love Yourself Less
Article by Jon Bloom
This will date me: the year I graduated from high school, Foreigner released its pop megahit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
This quintessential 80’s power ballad went platinum, not because of its vague, incoherent verses, but because, I believe, its title refrain asks a profound, universal human question: What is love?
What Is Love?
We know Foreigner’s producers understood this, at least intuitively, as a religious question, because the song builds into a gospel choir anthem by its end. We all share their intuition.
We know that eros is more than sex, and agape more than sacrifice. We know love is more than a feeling, but certainly not less than a feeling. We know it’s not just a decision, and we know it requires resolve. We know it’s not just a noun, not just a verb, and not just an adjective.
Our greatest stories, songs, poems, even our greeting cards, all bear witness that we know there is something transcendent and ultimate about love. We can’t help ascribing mystical, even metaphysical qualities to it. Yet with all the words we devote to it, we find love simply cannot be contained in human language. Like beauty or glory, it is easier to point to love than to define it.
This is a clue.
Love, like beauty and glory, is a God-haunted human experience. We all know love is transcendent because we innately know “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
The knowledge that love is meant to be a sacred thing is a deep, often suppressed memory in the human soul that God exists (Romans 1:18–19), that he is holy (Revelation 4:8), and that love is at the core of his nature. And therefore, love, in all its unsullied forms, is from God (1 John 4:7), which is why it’s beyond words: love is ultimately inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8).
This makes love a stubborn apologetic, a velvet-covered hammer smashing hollow materialistic assertions. Love simply refuses to be reduced to a genetic illusion or an enlightened self-interest that evolutionary biology speculates we adapted for survival. We all know better. That isn’t what love is.
Humans in every culture have always most admired the most selfless, even self-sacrificial expressions of love far more than desperate acts of self-preservation. Christianity, with its self-sacrificing God, didn’t create this admiration. It just most beautifully and gloriously fits the shape of love our souls most admire and deeply desire — like the missing puzzle piece we’ve always been searching for.
Love points to God. We know this deep down. Our biggest problem is that the god we want to see at the end of the pointer is often a false one.
The End of Love
The year after Foreigner pleaded to know what love is, Whitney Houston sang a chart-topping answer: “Learning to love yourself: it is the greatest love of all.” It also sounded like a song right out of church.
But it’s a worship song to a different, but all too familiar god: self. It celebrates the tragic myth fallen humanity has always wanted so badly to be true: We are worthy of our own supreme love and worship.
It’s a tragic myth because, when believed, it proves to be the death of love. It makes the wrong god the source and object of ultimate love (“the greatest love of all”). We are not love, and love has not come from us, because we are not God.
God is love. And when love is detached from God, it loses its true meaning. When we make ourselves the ultimate reference point for love, love devolves into whatever each of us wishes it to mean. Everyone loves in the way that’s right in his own eyes, and therefore also hates in the way that’s right in his own eyes.
This is the world as we know it. It’s the human story: the rejection of God resulting in the diseasing and disintegration of love. Humans defining love for themselves has led them to become supremely “lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:2), and so live “in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . . by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
It is not hard to understand why there is so much confusion, heartbreak, and violence in the world. Many of the horrifying things we see in the news are what the disintegration of love looks like.
Loving ourselves supremely is not the greatest love of all. It’s the end — the death — of love.
The End of Selfishness
This is why the Christian message is good news for everyone who really wants to know what love is.
The God of love, the God who is love, the God from whom all love comes, so loved us that he gave his only Son to become love incarnate and lovingly sacrifice himself to liberate all who believe in him from the suicidal slavery of supreme self-love (John 3:16). Jesus showed us what love is, the greatest love of all: laying down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
But Jesus is not content with us merely observing and admiring his love. For freedom he has set us free (Galatians 5:1). Our freedom is more than being loved; it is entering fully into the experience, the fellowship of love by loving God and others in the same way: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
And loving the way Love loves means some kind of self-dying, for as he laid down his life for us, we lay our life down for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). But as self-worship proves to be the death of love in this fallen world, this self-sacrificing proves to be the resurrection of love in this fallen world.
The love of Christ in the life of Christians is the end of selfishness and the foretaste of what Jonathan Edwards called heaven: “a world of love.”
All who wish to know what love is must look to whom love is. For God is love. And if we wish to experience true love, we must love in the way he loved us.