Category: The Inner Monk

Forgiveness = Letting Go

Ball And Chain In PrisonForgiveness is a part of life. We all have an opportunity in life to be forgiven or to forgive someone. In some situations, forgiveness is hard and not so easy to do. When you forgive someone, you also have the responsibility to forget. Now while it isn’t possible to wipe out your memories, you must pardon the past hurts and wrongs that have been done to you.  As difficult as it is, we have to let things go if forgiveness has a chance.

When we are wronged or hurt, our natural response is to seek retribution for it. We need to resolve those hurts. To forget means that we stop seeking it. Going back to revisit situations and moments when we were hurt only reopens those wounds. If we ever want to heal those wounds, we have to move forward. We have to leave the past in the past.

I won’t lie to you. This is hard. Very hard.

Many times we are misunderstood or there are misconceptions about things that led to the hurts. We may never be able to explain those things.  This is something that is very difficult for me because I have always felt like I had to explain or justify things but the reality is that you can’t always do it.  Honestly, it stinks but if forgiveness is going to have a chance to gain any momentum, you just have to learn to let it go.

We can’t force ourselves to have amnesia and forget things but we can push them away to the past and not let it hinder our efforts in the present and future of our relationships.  We all say or do things that hurt people.  We all will have regrets in life.  There isn’t anyone that will get through life without regrets.  We go through life making decisions – some good and some bad – that we have to live with the consequences of those decisions.  We also hurt people.  Most of us do not intend to hurt people but somehow we will.  That’s just a fact of life.

Some relationships with people are hard.  We have a choice as to whether we will make the effort or let those people go.  Is the relationship worth working for or is it best for both parties if we go our separate ways?  Those are some difficult choices we have to make.  I have had to make those choices.  Some where easy choices and some were painful.  Sometimes you have to rebuild the bridges you have burned along the way.

No, forgiveness isn’t always easy.  In fact, most of the time it isn’t.  Sometimes you simply have to eat the hurts and wounds for the good of the relationship.  I can tell you from personal experience that the longer you allow a severed relationship to go on, the harder it is to repair.  Sometimes it becomes an emotional game of chicken where one side waits for the other to make a move.  One side feels justified in waiting for the other party to ask forgiveness first.  This game can go on for years.  Sometimes neither side blinks while the wounds grow larger.

One thing that came to my mind one day as I was praying about a situation in my life.  I wondered if I should make a move or not.  While I was wrestling in my mind about it, the thought came that “doing the right thing is never wrong”.   That pretty much settled it for me and I let go of the stubbornness of who was going to make the effort first.  Now when I say “doing the right thing” that means letting it go.  I had to remember not to try to justify or explain my actions.  I made it simple.  I let it go.

Does it feel good to let it go?  No, it absolutely doe not.  I’m sure I surprised you with that answer but I have to be honest.  It’s like pulling off a bandage on a wound very slowly.  Letting go is the first step.  You take it one day at a time.  I’m sure it will get easier and that time will help as we put one emotional foot in front of the other.  Is it work?  Yes, I’m afraid it is but I think it is worth it.

The past is the past.  The only way to redeem the past is to move forward.  We do not have a time machine that can go back and change even one second.  When can only make the next second in our lives better.  While we have to let go of the past, we still must deal with the consequences of what has happened.  Forgiving is good but it doesn’t work if we are waiting for someone to disappoint us and bring up the past to add to anything new.  We have to give people another chance but not another chance to disappoint us.  If we sincerely do our part to make things better, that’s all we can do.  We can’t live in fear of repeating the past.

The Bible doesn’t use the phrase “forgive and forget,” but the implied concept is one of continual forgiveness without holding grudges. That is, when you forgive someone, it’s like you’re giving them a clean slate. Why should we give anyone a clean slate? Because God does. He pardons our sins and overlooks everything we do against Him so that we can gain an eternal inheritance. “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18)

Letting go is the key that unlocks the door to forgiveness.

 

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Jesus: Influence in Art and Life

Jesus and Wedding at Cana – Largest Painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris

On our recent amazing trip through Europe, we had the opportunity to visit several churches and museums. We saw some amazing works of art. Speaking as a believer in Jesus Christ (please don’t cringe when I say that) I noticed that a lot of art was either inspired by Jesus or about the life of Jesus. The thought that always came to my mind was that there must have truly been something to all of this. I know there will be some who would argue that this doesn’t prove anything or that Jesus didn’t exist or, at least, he wasn’t more than just a man. After seeing these masterpieces of art, I have to disagree. There was something definitely about Jesus. I can’t believe that artists would have gone to these lengths create such influential pieces of art.

I have heard some say before that Jesus was either an imposter or the real thing.

Yes, there’s something to this Jesus. It’s really difficult today to even talk about Jesus. When you even say something about Jesus people want to cringe or back away. It seems that it’s okay to say God but when you narrow it down to Jesus, people tend to get a bit uncomfortable. They think you’re one of “those” people. Yes, there are some of “those” people who are a bit over the edge of anyone’s comfort zones but being a believer isn’t about being a “Jesus freak” about things or walking around preaching to people using “Thou Shalt Not” or informing people that they are going to hell. I’m sure if Jesus were walking around with us today He would be embarrassed by these people who make Him and His message look bad. He was never in the first picket line and He never pointed a condemning finger at people. He never asked people to join his church or any ridiculous ritual to join his club. In fact, the religious rulers were the ones Jesus was the harshest with.

Jesus influenced the lives of people which inspired them to create incredible works of art. I’m afraid that Jesus isn’t doing so well in influencing people today because we are making it a political statement rather than just loving people. Yes, there are people in their sins but can’t we still love instead of acting like a Jesus tactical unit ready to take down anyone that isn’t abiding by the rules we think they should follow? I think it is much more effective to love people and set the example. If you are ever around me, I never try to “witness” to anyone and although I have a family history of preachers in my family, I am not going to preach to you. Now, if you ask, I will tell you more but I’m not going to force feed you Jesus or participate in a pointless debate.

You don’t have to holler and scream to convince someone to become a believer. Some think they can preach someone into believing or win some sort of debate. Let me assure you that you won’t debate someone into believing. I have never seen it where the other side relents and believes. I guess it works sometimes but I haven’t experienced it – ever.

Jesus influenced early artists and people with his life. When you go to the Vatican, whether you are Catholic or not – you can sense a presence of God there. Yes, the Catholic Church has its problems as with every other church organization but Jesus definitely had a hand in it. We are all quick to criticize what we don’t know. Sure, there are some wrong teachings in every church and that’s why it is important to dedicate ourselves to apply ourselves to maintaining our own relationship with Jesus Christ. Trust me, you can’t always get your truth from a preacher. Now, there are some good ones out there who do their best to teach their people the right way to live as a believer but even these would caution you to follow Jesus and not their ministry.

Make no mistake about it, there is definitely something about Jesus.

Do I Really Matter?

lonely-man-on-benchI’m sure you have experienced this situation before – you are in a group of people that you haven’t met before and someone asks this question:

So what do you do?

Then it begins. Based upon your answer to that question you are classified and categorized.

I don’t think that’s really fair do you?

My job or what I do isn’t who I am.

Most of us have had times where we ask ourselves if we matter. I certainly have. We wonder whether or not we are making a difference in our lives.

Although I am very thankful to have a job, I get tired of the routine. Sunday evenings I have to fight off the impending Monday blues.

While others may classify or judge us on the work we do or what degree we hold, that is not who we are. God certainly doesn’t look at us that way. I have witnessed people in the church address others as Doctor or Most Holy Reverend and it sickens me. Sorry, but I have to be honest here. God doesn’t care about the titles so why should we? A person who works flipping burgers is just as important to God as the person who has attended college multiple years. God looks at us each individually and we absolutely matter to Him.

The Bible tells us that we are inscribed on the palm of his hand. (Isaiah 49:16) Now that’s pretty special isn’t it?

So what does that tell us? It means that God is interested in us and cares about our lives.

We matter to Him. Each one of us has the opportunity to impact others every day. Whether it is a co-worker, a child or a stranger we can invest in someone’s life. That’s what our purpose is. God never said that getting a doctorate degree in theology was what mattered to Him the most. People matter to Him. How we treat others is the most important thing.

Quite often I work with people who are unfiltered in their comments. Their words can affect the course of my day if I let it. It’s very difficult not to respond the same way and, honestly, it takes enormous resolve to respond the right way and have the soft answer to turn away their wrath.

Okay, so you aren’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 company but you still matter.  Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or work for a large corporation,  you matter.  You have the opportunity each day to invest in people.  Sometimes you can make or break someone’s day.  This is where you can be the difference matter.  I have had times in my life where I have honestly moaned and complained to God about the people I have to work with or some of the personalities that do not agree with mine but in those situations I have had to realize that I can still make a difference.  Even if we are put in a difficult situation, we can still matter to someone.

We are encouraged to do our jobs and whatever we do as if we are doing it for the Lord.  Yeah, I know.  That’s really hard to do sometimes when your supervisor is less than ideal or shows their lack of integrity.  We can’t look at them.  We can’t control them.  We can control us and what we do.

Sometimes we don’t seem to matter to people around us but we always matter to God.  He cares about everything that happens to us.  I have always heard that He has a plan for us – and he does.  Sometimes we get off the track He has planned for us but if we are sincere and seek His will, He will re-direct us back to where we need to be.  I know some folks believe that God has predestinated every choice and everything in our lives.  Some believe that He already knows the end.  They forget the power of our own free will.  Yes, God knows where we are going to end up if we stay on the course we are going but things in life change and we are totally able to use our free will to change that course.  I know that’s deep but it goes to show that we do matter and what we do with our lives when it comes to the way we treat others matters too.

If you woke up this morning wondering if you matter let me assure you that you do.  Now when you go out, make your life matter to someone else.  Make a difference to the people around you.

Jesus Is NOT For Sale

img_0243I watched a presentation last week where the presenter was talking about how times have changed in the church and how we must change with it. One of the things that stood about about what he said was that people aren’t going to respond to the Gospel if they see it as a ploy to get them to come to our church. That was NEVER part of the Great Commission. It seems that today too many ministries and churches are trying to “get people saved” in order that they can build their church and get more people coming to their brand of Jesus. We need to stop selling Jesus because people aren’t buying it.

Years ago I was associated with a minister who was attempting to start a church. It should have been a red flag to me when he told me that he had to be a leader and that he wasn’t meant to be just a member. Just a member? You mean like me? When the church didn’t take off, he moved to another state.

So what are we selling here? Some people want to start a church or ministry and when it isn’t big, they lose interest. They think that God is only interested in the big things or the mega church.  We think that large numbers means that we are successful.  We treat God’s work like a business and think that the bottom line is the measure of success.

I’m always suspicious of peoples’ motives. Why are they REALLY doing what they are doing? Why does it need to be big?

Since I left the church I have had some who have come along to connect with me but when they see that I am not going to come to their church, their interest in me fizzles out. So that would lead me to think their interest in me isn’t in ME but in what I can do to be a part of their church or their ministry. Jesus didn’t start this thing so that preachers could have a pulpit to preach from. In fact, if you study the Bible, you will see that Jesus didn’t have a church and many times when He went into the synagogue it was to preach to the religious people. When Jesus went out to the people, He had compassion on them and their needs. He healed the sick and He spoke words of peace to them. The only people He asked to join Him was the disciples.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the righteous people about how they ignored Him when He was hungry, thirsty, needed clothes, was sick or in prison. When they asked when was it that Jesus was this way He said that whatever you did for one of the least of these that you have done it for Him. So today we should be more than just an advertisement for a church organization. We need to meet people’s needs. If we see someone who is thirsty we need to give them something to drink. If they are hungry we should be willing to feed them. If they need clothes we should help them with clothing and so on. Never once did this say that we are supposed to witness to them. I know that’s a shock to a lot of people out there but witnessing alone won’t get it done. Today if you talk to someone about Jesus and they don’t see action behind the words then they aren’t going to accept it. just saying “God Bless You” doesn’t quinch their thirst and giving them nice, glossy witness card isn’t going to do them much good.

In my years with the church I was always opposed to knocking on doors. To me it was too much like being a door-to-door salesman. That was never a good way to get people to come to church. In fact, I had never seen that method of evangelism – or whatever you call it – work. If it did, it had to be a low percentage. Yes, I know if you reach just ONE person it was worth it but I never saw that selling Jesus that way was very efficient.

Have compassion on people. Meet their needs. You’re not going to do it by having a perfect attendance in a mega church with air conditioning, padded seats and singing songs from high tech visual presentations.

You may be thinking that I’m against church. In some parts I am.  This kind of talk makes us uncomfortable.  We get defensive and protective about our church.  We would rather stand in our Jesus arenas and clap for the Lord than to do something about it.  I lived a miserable life going to church and nothing changing. When you leave church feeling worst than when you came then there is something wrong with church. Sure, I think church is important for instruction and teaching but I think there has been too much emphasis on that than going beyond the four walls of a building. The church still must go out and – not add to their numbers as a church organization – but add numbers to disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s it in a nutshell. I think we’re just often too chicken to do that. It’s easier to stay in the church and TALK about doing it or even giving money so other people will do it.

There are people in need and hurting around us that need help. They need compassion. They don’t need a sermon. If it’s really good news then they need to see why it is good news. They need to see us being an example in actions and not just words.

It’s up to each one of us to do our part. It’s not always fun and it’s not always easy but helping others as if we are doing it unto the Lord is the attitude we should have.

I worked in churches for most of my life. I worked with youth, I taught Sunday School and Bible Studies and I even tried to preach but that left me awkward and miserable. Why is that? Talk wasn’t getting it done. The only thing that really ministers to people is to meet their needs and SHOW them. You show them by doing.

Let’s stop selling Jesus. People aren’t buying it. Jesus doesn’t need us to sell Him, He needs us to BE Him to others.

@#$%! I Was Just Praying!

E15191-mug15oz_1024x1024This week I walked across the street during my lunch break to a church which was open for prayer.  I walked inside.  It was quiet, air-conditioned and no one else was around.  Perfect. It was the perfect setting for prayer.  I spent a while there praying and sitting quietly.

Wait before you think I’m bragging on myself here. Keep reading.

It was a nice break from the daily work routine.  I was at peace as I got up to leave.  I walked out of the church and was getting ready to cross the street when a driver blew through the red light and nearly mowed me down.  I waved my arms wildly and uttered some flowery language.  As I regained my composure, I looked back at the church and wondered if I should go back inside again.  The peace from my time of prayer barely lasted past the church doors.  I was more upset that I had lost my composure more than the stupid driver rolling through the intersection.

Yeah, this wasn’t a shining moment for me and certainly nothing to brag about.  Some Christian I am right?  Believe me I shake my head enough at myself in these moments more than you would think.  I honestly try not to give Christians a bad name but my human emotions get the best of me just like anyone else.  Hey, I’m human.  I am not one of those who thinks I walked out of that church perfect or that I had done something great by spending some time praying. If you are a believer, you aren’t going to be perfect.  Sorry to break that news to you.  You’re going to have moments of flowery language, you’re going to have a flat tire and stuff will happen to you just like it happens to everyone else.   If you are a believer, you are going to make a lot of spiritual boo boos along the way too.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have had to ask forgiveness to God for my emotions getting out of control.  It happens.  I grew up in a church which was a little crazy about perfection.  If someone from the church had witnessed my flowery moment in the crosswalk, they would have likely brought charges against me before the men of the church.  I would have been counseled by the brethren.  For sure I would have to repent all over again because I would have been viewed as a backslider.  I even heard some teaching that we are supposed to be perfect.  Really?  When do you stop becoming human?

How is it possible that someone could ever be perfect?  That thinking alone is totally flawed theology.  We all have weak moments.  In fact, the Bible says that we have ALL fallen short.  How can anyone think that believers should be perfect beings while having the same physical body in a world of pain and imperfection?  It’s just not possible.  I can tell you – and I think anyone with physical ailments can verify this – when you have illness or pain in your body, it certainly makes it difficult to be perfect.  Pain is humbling and as long as we have this human bodies, nothing will ever be perfect.

Yeah, I felt bad for losing it for a moment and giving that driver a piece of my mind but I also didn’t let that moment erase the time I had just spent in prayer.  An emotional lapse isn’t going to cancel out a solid time of prayer.  I just said a prayer of forgiveness to God and asked Him to help me to do better in that situation next time.  Maybe I blew it then but maybe I learned a lesson from it.

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those “cussing Christians”.  I’m just a believer who strives to do better.  The worst thing I could have done – which I have done in the past – was to just throw up my hands and just wallow in my frustration.  Believe me, it is a lot easier to do that than to just acknowledge my imperfections, ask forgiveness and move on.  I think it is difficult for people to understand that we are all human – even people who come out of the church after praying.  There have been churches where people are flipping each other off in the parking lot after church.

So what can you do if you are a believer and you slip up – maybe cuss a little?

  1. Recognize you are human and ask forgiveness immediately.
  2. Try to avoid being in the situation next time if possible.
  3. If there are witnesses, apologize.  Don’t let pride defeat you too.
  4. Pray for that *special* (insert your city here) driver.  Bless their hearts.

Hey, it’s a crazy world out there.  Let’s not be surprised when this kind of thing happens.  It’s not the end of the world.  Yeah, I know, people will be quick to judge you but you just have to let it go.  if not, that people will find something else anyway.  And if you’re in a church that tries to say you can be perfect – RUN.  Get away from that church.

My grandfather was preaching one time and a man in attendance walked up to adjust a fan and accidentally got a finger stuck and was clipped by the fan.  He uttered a cuss word.  My grandfather didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “Well, it looks like we’ll have one in the altar at the end of the service tonight.”

Stuff happens.

I have seen a bumper sticker that reads:  “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”   Some folks look at that as a cop out for bad behavior but it is truthful.  No one – not even people rolling in and out of church buildings on Sunday mornings.  We all have our flaws and we all have things we need to work on.

Don’t let those imperfect moments knock you down.  If anything, it should humble you and show you that you have something to work on.  God isn’t going to smite you for it.  He already knows we aren’t always going to get it right.  I have seen people walk around and all they ever do is quote Bible verses and use King James English all the time as if that will make them perfect and a part of God’s disciples club.  God doesn’t fall for that.

Nope, we’re not perfect.  We blow it sometimes but we can use those times as a lesson and learn from them.

Trust God: He’s Got This

Trusting in God and His timing is one of the hardest things for me to do. I am pretty sure that I am not alone. We are impatient people. We want what we want when we want it. We don’t want to wait. I’m sure it drives God nuts in how impatient we can be.

My wife has been planning a trip for us and she will routinely tell me that she’s got this. It is her way to keep me from stressing out about it. When someone says “I’ve got this” it means you don’t have to worry about it. They are handling it so don’t stress about it

Worry is such a nasty word. I hate to worry yet I often find myself there. When we pray, we are presenting our desires to God but many times we walk away and continue with stressing about the very thing we prayed for.

God knows us and knows more than anything we could. This is a God who knows the very details of how many hairs we have on our head. Nothing that happens to us surprises Him and you won’t hear Him say “oops”. He’s got everything under control.

Okay, let’s be honest here. It sure doesn’t seem like He does. I know I will even look up in my despair and ask Him does He even see what’s going on. The fact is that He does and He’s not under any obligation to share every little detail of His plan with us.

Just this past week I offered up a prayer about a particular need. It wasn’t one of those on-my-knees-crying-out-to-God prayers. It was a rather weak request but it was sincere, honest and from my heart. I talk to God just like I would talk to you. I presented my request to Him. I would like to tell you that I had all kinds of faith that God was going to do something. I did have a measure of faith but certainly nothing you would be impressed with. The very next day God not only answered that prayer but He did above and beyond anything that I expected. I was totally overwhelmed. I spent the rest of the day thanking Him for it. It was incredible.

I also asked God to help me to remember that moment. Remember how it felt when a prayer was answered. I want to always keep moments like those on my mind when prayers aren’t being answered or when it seems God isn’t listening.

I assure you they God had a plan. Timing with God is important. We pray things and we expect to get them right away. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can tell you that it is very rare for a prayer to be answered right away. Most of the time, it takes time.

There are times when God had to answer prayers around the free will that people have. God isn’t going to force people to do what He wants them to do. He’s moving the chess pieces around to get things in place to answer our prayers. God will often work in ways we cannot see and get our prayers answered in ways we would have never thought of. It can come from totally unexpected places. I know because I often find myself trying to visualize how God is going to do it. Sometimes I will even try to help Him with His plan which I am sure amuses Him.

I’m glad that God is in control and I can have faith that He’s got this.

Waiting To Be Remembered

In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, Joseph found himself in prison after he had been falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of rape. When the baker and the butler were in the prison Joseph interpreted their dreams. The baker didn’t have a good result but the butler did. When the butler was restored to his position Joseph had asked to be remembered but he was not and he spent another two years in the prison before he was remembered.

I don’t think we can fully comprehend what he went through because we already know the end of the story. Two years is a long time to be forgotten.

I have spent many times in the forgotten place. Those are some of the hardest times of your life. It is difficult when you are waiting. It doesn’t matter how many times you have gone through this it is just as hard the next time. Experience doesn’t make it any easier.

At this time in my life I am waiting. I hope that I will be remembered. I will have to confess that I am have been discouraged. It is difficult being Joseph in the prison. The hardest thing is to refrain from forcing something to happen. Yes, here we go with that dreaded patience word again. I have already established the fact that I am not very good at waiting but I have also learned how important that patience can be from my own experiences.

I have always heard the cliche that “God is good all the time and all the time God is good”. He is and I don’t dispute that one bit; however, that cliche has always sickened me. Yes, God is good but I’m a little less interested in some Christian cheerleader chant during these forgotten times. When it seems that you are forgotten or your prayers have been forgotten you really don’t want to hear a cliche and it certainly doesn’t seem God is good at the time. I know this doesn’t sound very holy like but I’m being honest. Yes, maybe some people can whistle their way through being in the prison but most of us cannot.

It is hard to continue to go each day without an important prayer going unanswered. Each prayer seems empty. The energy dwindles with each word.

This week I was struggling with the discouragement of being forgotten by God. It seemed that nothing was happening. I was honest to God about what I was feeling. I simply asked for a little encouragement. I didn’t need anything big just a little something to give me a lift. Yesterday, Steven Curtis Chapman released his latest music video for the song “Remember to Remember”. The song reminds us to remember that God had been there when we’ve been on the mountaintops and the times we’ve been in the valleys of our lives. That song hit me right where I needed it. I am often amazed how God can work through a song but He does. No, it wasn’t a huge thing but something I needed and something that will push me on. I may still be in my prison of unanswered prayers but I am not forgotten.

If you are like me, we have to hold on and keep the faith. It isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. Always.