Saturday, July 23, 2011

He Did This for You

“having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross;” -Colossians 2:14

I’ll never forget my wedding day. It was a beautiful day, one that had, in fact, been three years in the making. Jennifer and I decided we would like to get married on the beach in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, so we found the perfect spot to hold the ceremony. The location was great; we had direct access to the beachfront where we put up chairs for the guests, an arch for the two of us and the preacher to stand under, and a backdrop of the ocean so beautiful, it wasn’t possible to mistake it as anything else but a backdrop given by God.

However, there is another reason why I’ll never forget our wedding day. Of course Jennifer looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her look before, and the music was carefully selected to give our own touch on the entire occasion, but there’s another reason I will never forget that day.

It’s also the day I lit my hand on fire.

Allow me to explain…

Apparently, it was my job, as the groom, to set up the tiki torches that lined the walkway through the sand that extended from the parking lot to the beach front. Somehow in the process of filling the torches with fuel I had managed to spill some on my hand. I was in such a hurry, racing against the clock before the ceremony began, that I hadn’t even noticed. It was only until I went back to the first torch and lit the lighter that I had realized the ‘error of my ways’. The small flame from the lighter had very quickly become a large flame engulfing my hand. Had I not been a trained professional (and by that I mean I served as a volunteer firefighter in college for the local city, which meant I had hardly any training at all), this incident could have ruined my wedding day.

I quickly became two people at once; the panicked patient, as well as the cool professional. 

Luckily, when you’re on the beach, there is an abundance of one thing- Sand. Lots and lots of sand. So I did what any other highly trained professional would do; I buried my hand in the sand and smothered the flame. After burying my hand, I wanted to bury my head. Luckily, aside from some singed arm hair and pride, I managed to escape completely unharmed.

However, I am not the only bridegroom to sacrifice a hand for his bride. There’s no doubt that Christ was a powerful man, both physically and spiritually. He gained his physical strength doing the demanding work of a carpenter. He made a living gripping heavy pieces of wood and using brute strength to manipulate them into place.Yet he refused to use that tremendous strength to simply close his hand and form a fist and save himself.

Rather than feel a nail pierce his flesh, he could have felt the hand of an angel lift him gently off that cross. But he didn’t. And do you know why? He allowed himself to suffer because of his love for his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ was not focused on his immediate well-being, but on the long-term well-being of his bride (Rev. 21:1,2).
In my mind, he didn’t so much as flinch when he saw the nail but rather said, “Bring it on.”

When they cast lots for his clothes in John 19:23, he thought, “You can have them. I’m trading them in for robes that are white as snow soon.”

When they put a crown made of thorns upon his head, he accepted it because he knew he would soon trade it for a ‘Crown of Righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:8).

When they sealed his tomb, he thought, “Don’t worry, my Father will open it again in three days. He’s got a key to every door.”

Christ did all this because of a love for his bride, which is the church. And you know what the best part of all of this is? It’s not the fact that he didn’t call on the angels. It’s not the fact that he rose again on the third day and left his tomb. Rather, it’s the fact that he did it for you.

In the scheme of things, lighting my hand on fire on my wedding day doesn’t even compare to the sacrifice Christ made for his bride. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even use the tiki torches because I confused the directions and had lined the wrong walkway, thereby making my ‘sacrifice’ pointless.

Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t pointless. He held his hand open for you. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15).

You're in the grocery store picking up a few things when someone accidentally bumps into you. They give a quick apology, and you shuffle on without giving it a second thought.

Your husband walks in the door from a very long day, after grinding out a very long week, and he's a little snappy with you. But, being the good husband that he is, he eventually apologizes and you forgive him. Life is beautiful in your household once again, and the Brady Bunch is left in a fog of envy.

However, what happens if we turn the stakes up a little? What if you find out that the person you've considered to be one of your best friends had actually sold you out? I mean, how could they, right?! Friendship betrayal is serious a kind of pain, but it happened between Jesus and Judas, didn’t it? Even then, had Judas repented, forgiveness could have been given. Don’t believe me? Tell me the difference between Judas and Peter.
But what if we made it a little more ‘close to home’? This is one that we have all dealt with, and if we haven’t yet, just wait—it will. And when it does, it will make us all uncomfortable. We know we can forgive others, but...

What about you forgiving you?

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever done something that you wish you hadn’t? Something that you wish you could take back? There’s always that one incident that haunts you. For some, it’s that first drug hit that leads you to years of life in a downward spiral. For others, the decision to cut off a family member from your life, only to find out they are killed weeks later, without making amends. How do you forgive yourself of something like this?

In the movie "Get Low", the character Felix Bush is a hermit who secludes himself in a self-made prison in the hills of Tennessee for something he decides is so horrible that he cannot come to forgive himself. Instead, he couldn't see the simple answer to God's forgiveness because he had let his fallible, human emotions keep him from seeing it. Instead, he believed repentance had to come at a much steeper price.

I tell you this to ask you a question: Why is it so much easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves? We can forgive the person in the grocery store. We can forgive the grumpy spouse. We can even eventually forgive the backstabbing friend.

But why can't we give forgiveness to ourselves?

Like many things, the solution lies in identifying the underlying problems.

First, we must recognize that it is so much harder to forgive ourselves of something (regardless of its seriousness) because we feel the guilt and the hurt, whereas when someone else hurts us, all we feel is the hurt. This means we are struggling to overcome two negative emotions at once rather than just the one.

Second, sometimes, like Felix Bush, we don't feel like we're worthy of forgiveness. However tempting it is to hold to this belief, we must-and I emphasis must- get rid of this notion if we are to survive both emotionally, and spiritually. After all, if God, who is far more holy and righteous than we are, can forgive us, then why can't we forgive ourselves? Are we to hold ourselves to a higher standard of righteousness than He who created the very concept of righteousness? I don't know any rational person who would admit to this, but their actions may say otherwise. And which one speaks louder, actions or words?

Third, we must base our faith in the cleansing power of Christ's blood. To believe that self-forgiveness is an impossibility in any circumstance is a dangerous belief, and is as corrosive as acid. It eats away at our trust and faith in God until one day there is nothing left to believe in. If it is not for the redemptive power of Christ's forgiveness, then we have no relationship with the Father at all. After all, if we say that we cannot be forgiven of a specific sin then we diminish the blood of Christ, which is able to make us clean again. We are commanded to forgive men of their trespasses, and nowhere in that passage do I read an exemption clause saying that you don't have to forgive yourself.

After all, isn't forgiveness forgiveness, regardless of to whom it goes? It matters from whom--but not to whom—including yourself. It ultimately comes down to your relationship with the Father, and a trust in His perfect plan. Do you forget the incident that you did that brought the guilt and hurt? Not even in a perfect world. But do you dwell on it and continue to beat yourself up daily? Satan would love for you to conform to the world's way of operating, dwelling on the issue for the rest of your life. But we are called not to be conformed, but rather to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

And a transformation, in this case, means forgiveness.