Tag Archives: Forgiveness

The Planned Parenthood Shooter

Yesterday Robert Dear from North Carolina killed police officer Garrett Swasey, a former athlete turned police officer, near the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the two were within yards of one another, they saw the world very, very differently. At the same moment, only two miles away in the comfort of my office, I was also experiencing a different world.

Today I expect to start hearing projections as to why this gunner targeted Planned Parenthood, and why he chose to shoot and ultimately kill and injure people in our community.

As my wife and I were falling asleep last night, we spoke at length about the way people see situations so differently. I see this contrast in perceptions regularly, even among the people of our church. Different people see situations and others differently based on their own values, experiences, and educations that filter their perceptions.

In addition, we all have, to varying degrees, cognitive distortions, which are thought patterns that cause irrational or exaggerated conclusions. Whoever this shooter was, I’m sure we’ll learn more about his cognitive distortions that caused him to justify, in his own mind, the tragedy he created yesterday. And with each one, we’ll shake our heads wondering how he could possibly think that way.

I teach a class on Sunday nights on Renewing Your Mind: How To Change Your Brain. A portion of that class deals with our seeing things realistically and then responding responsibly. Therapists that emphasize how behaviors are influenced by our thinking (Cognitive Behavioral and Reality Therapists) often use a list of cognitive distortions to help clients identify their own cognitive distortions so they can respond to life more rationally.

Two week ago I wrote a blog entitled “What? That’s Not What Happened!” listing a few of these cognitive distortions.

As Gayle and I were talking last night, we reviewed how our awareness of cognitive distortions can help all of us think through events and choose our responses with greater wisdom. In the context of yesterday’s craziness on the first day of this Christmas season, I thought a more thorough review might be helpful for all of us (This is my adaptation of the checklist by David Burns from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy)

  1. Polarized thinking: When we look at things in absolute — all or nothing categories, we are typically thinking too simplistically. Things are seldom exclusively good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. Instead, there are exceptions, explanations, and nuances that cause most people and situations to fall into a gray area between the extremes.
  2. Overgeneralization: When we overgeneralize, we use words like always, never, everyone, best, and worst. Generalizations are seldom, if ever, true. There is typically at least one exception. 
  3. Discounting the positives: When we  discount the positive accomplishments or qualities of ourselves or others, and focus only on the negative, we or they feel insignificant and powerless.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – we assume that we know what other people are feeling or thinking. When we do this, we think we know the motivations of others. Since we rarely understand our own motivations, to presume to know the motivations of another is a significant projection that is seldom accurate; (B) Fortune Telling – we arbitrarily predict the outcome of events or future development in the lives of others.
  5. Magnification or Minimization: We blow things way out of proportion or we shrink their significance, which distorts their value.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: We draw conclusions based on how we feel, assuming our feelings reflect some reality.
  7. Should Statements: We judge others using words like should, shouldn’t, must, and ought. “Have to” is a similar offender. These are sometimes necessary for personal application, and we may sparingly and cautiously use them in reference to those within our chain-of-command, but they can reveal a major distortion of personal significance when used randomly toward others.
  8. Labeling: We draw comfort by simplistically seeing people and situations in categories, boxes, silos, classifications, or stereotypes. This leads to sexism, racism, bigotry, and other generalizations that do not take into account the uniqueness of individuals or specific situations.
  9. Personalization: We assume that what people are doing or saying is about or because of us, when in fact it might not have anything to do with us.
  10. Blame: Our greatest potential for choice is between some event and our response to it. We choose our responses. They are not forced upon us, which is why we are responsible for how we choose to respond. So when we blame, we are giving more power over our lives to others, and denying our own abilities.

It’s too early to know why the Planned Parenthood shooter did what he did. But now we have an opportunity to comfort those who have been hurt by his actions, pray for healing in the lives of those involved, and do everything we can to learn from this horrific tragedy how to respond to actions and views we disagree with in constructive, godly ways.

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Survival In the Coming Age?

4 in Q & A Series

Question: As believers, how do we prepare for the coming changes in this world?

As Evangelical Christians looking to the future, we would be wise to understand the times in which we live, and be aware that as a society we are improving in some ways and worsening in others.

I’ve observed that typically when a Democrat is in the White House, we Christians publish and sell a great deal of apocalyptic literature, but when a Republican is in the White House, we produce an abundance of hopeful, faith-based materials. This trend demonstrates how politicized we have become. Nations are always forming or being dismantled, economies are strengthening or weakening, political movements are growing or waning, and believers are impacted one way or another in each of these situations.

Surprisingly, under Sadaam Hussein, Christians experienced greater protection and freedom to attend church and worship according to their faith. Since his removal, the church has suffered greatly in Iraq and has gone virtually underground. Under Hasni Mubarak, the Egyptian church enjoyed greater freedom and government protection, but since his removal, Christian churches and schools have been burned, and many Christians have been martyred. Sometimes when we think political events might improve our plight, they actually get worse. And sometimes when we think things might get worse, they actually get better.

With that in mind, how do we prepare for the coming changes to the world? The Bible simply says that we should watch, pray, and be ready. I believe in staying steady on good days and difficult days. So here is what I do:

1. Develop habits now that will never change. I read my Bible and pray every day. I have done this during times of great success in my life, as well as during my most horrible upsets. We all can receive life and encouragement regardless of the other events surrounding us if we will read our Bibles and pray every day.

2. Keep growing financially. We all need to intentionally increase our value in the workplace so we will have as much earning power as possible. As we go through life, if we tithe 10% to an authentic New Testament Church, save and invest 10%, and use the other 80% for everything else, we will become increasingly financially secure as we go through life. Then if unexpected events come our way, we will have a greater ability to absorb them. If nothing negative happens, then in our 50’s, our investments will produce as much income as our work. Regardless of our age and current situation, this is a good plan to start today.

3. Love, but never take it for granted from others. One of the most crushing moments in life is when we experience a difficult season and it dawns on us that our friends don’t love us or our families as much as we thought they did. It’s tough, but to stay healthy and recover as quickly as possible, we would do better to face the reality that others do not owe us their love.

I think it’s wise to accept the fact that ONLY God has unconditional love for us, and that love from others is mostly earned. Certainly there are exceptions. Some will love us without us having earned it, while others may choose to love us because they value us in spite of our current limitations and failings. But don’t expect others to love or care about you or your family on a bad day, or you may end up deeply disappointed. Instead, be grateful when anyone is loving, kind, or generous. We will be stronger if we are grateful for any good that comes our way, than to expect kindness and be disappointed. And with that strength, we can love others.

4. Be strong and courageous. Courage is the greatest of all virtues because, without it, we are not able to exercise any other virtues on a bad day. Faith, love, and kindness all disappear from the self-serving hearts of cowards because they lack the courage to do the right thing. With courage, we are able to stand firm.

Courageous faith is our hope no matter what comes our way. It is based on timeless truths we can count on regardless of social, political, or economic trends. We can always trust the Lord. He is our core strength.

And finally,

5. Participate in an authentic New Testament Church that understands the application of the Gospel, grace, love, internal transformation, healing, redemption, power, and restoration. Here you will experience the strength of the family of God on good days and bad. Authentic New Testament Churches are the fellowships of the gratefully redeemed, not fellowships of the self-righteous. How do we know the difference? By how they respond to someone else’s sin. If they are an authentic New Testament Church, they will respond with understanding and redemptive healing. If they are actually an Old Testament “church,” they will respond with punitive condemning judgment that will include separation from the body. They will, in effect, deny resurrection to the sinner in order to increase humiliation, thinking the solution to the sin problem is punishment. They are Old Testament thinkers. They do not know that the Gospel applies most significantly in a difficult situation.

So how do we prepare? None of us knows our futures, but if we develop a few good practices and stay steady, we can face whatever comes our way.

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Why Do I Feel So Much Guilt?

#2 in Q & A Series

Well, all of us are guilty. Feeling it and having the ability to do something about it is a gift.

There are lots of reasons why people feel guilt. Maybe you have done or said something wrong. Or maybe you have been influenced by your culture, family, or a non-New Testament religious organization that has you convinced you are not worthy. Regardless of the reason you are feeling “so much guilt,” the New Testament has the solution for you.

Guilt can be a motivation to improve our lives. In Romans 3:19, Paul writes that the purpose of the law “is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God.” Paul is saying that all of us need to take responsibility and not excuse our own ungodly thoughts, words, and actions. We all fall short of God’s ideal and need Christ’s righteousness for us to be in right standing with God.

Once his righteousness is in us, we experience great confidence. In I John 3:20-21, John writes, “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.” Feeling guilty is our state outside Christ or in disobedience to Christ, but as we abide in His righteousness, we are cleansed and gain great confidence in him. This is easy. It is a relief.

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

In II Corinthians 11:9, Paul said, “I have never been a burden to you, and I never will.”

I decided early in my ministry career that I wanted my Christian service to be like Jesus’ and Paul’s in this respect. Every ministry I have ever led has been structured to be an uplift, an encouragement, a relief to people. Life is difficult enough, we don’t need Sunday worship to be a burden as well. And on Sunday mornings when we as believers gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and, consequently, our own resurrections, we worship, fellowship, give, and publicly read the Word together. This is not the time to add burden to people’s lives. Our giving can be done freely, joyfully, and without pressure. That is why I am opposed to religious leaders imposing guilt in order to extract funds from fellow believers. Some construct godless, guilt-inducing ways to get believers to give more and more. I’ll not go into details, but fundamentally I think believers should give, and the leadership should budget accordingly so the costs of ministry do not excessively burden the worshippers.

Sadly, many Christians do not feel guilty because of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, but because of leaders who impose guilt in order to control them. These types of leaders have been in the church from the beginning, and very often they are our most popular leaders. Paul warned Timothy about them by saying, “They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (II Timothy 3:3-6). I notice these leaders scrutinize the weaknesses of others and present themselves as spiritually superior. Watch out!

Our modern Christian culture demands justice and public ridicule for some sins, while other sins are embraced. Immorality, theft, and addictions demand punishment. Judgmentalism, lovelessness, and blame, however, are lauded and can be marketed to the church . If our leaders promote certain sins, they can raise significant amounts of money to stop “those sinners.” This duplicity makes the one raising the funds appear spiritually superior highlighting the inferiority of others. Everything about this is contrary to the New Testament.

We should fund the Gospel, but we should probably ensure it’s an authentic New Testament Gospel. New Testament Christianity is an uplift to people. It lightens our load and offers a solution for guilt. The cross sets all of us free from the need to humiliate others, even the unrepentant. It’s just not our role. We offer dignity, confidence, and joy because of the love and righteousness of Christ. Remember the fruit of God’s Spirit within us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of the reality of the cross, our lives are a Sabbath rest. I know, I know, the great evangelists say we should burn out not rust out. Well, let them. I’m going to take some time in my back yard and gratefully enjoy Him. I’ve lived long enough now, that I feel no need to be an expert in anyone else’s sin. I only feel compelled to let others know the freedom they can find in Him. That’s it. And that’s not hard.

If you feel guilty, then repent. Receive your forgiveness and be transformed, renewed, filled, and healed, so your life will improve. Now, smile a grateful smile, and rest.

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What are your thoughts on Shame?

#1 in Q & A Series

I appreciate the way the Blood of Christ and God’s Spirit free us from shame. No doubt, I, for one, am grateful for the forgiveness of sin and the opportunity to have a clear conscience.

I know a lot about shame. I spent four years dominated by shame. Then I realized that Christ was not shocked at my sins, that he had forgiven me for them, and that he had positive plans for my future. Key people in my life decided to forgive me. So for me to allow shame to lord over my life was a denial of my faith and a repudiation of those who had confidence in Christ’s resurrection power in me. What followed that realization was an interesting process to watch. There were those who had publicly fueled and promoted my demise, actually wanting shame to control me, who did all they could to promote shame in my life. Others, though, promoted resurrection in me and did what they could to encourage healing and restoration in my life. It seemed to me as though some proved to be enemies of the Gospel’s work in me, and others proved to be friends and true believers of the Gospel’s power to work in me. This dynamic altered the way I respond to someone else’s sin: I want always to be the guy who encourages resurrection in others.

As I went through this process of deciding who would have a determining voice in my life, I decided that Jesus’ life was more powerful than my shame, and that those who said what Christ says should have influence over me, not those who wanted only to accuse and take advantage of me. It was a glorious process as the influence of Christ and authentic believers set me free to pursue God’s plan for my life.

The New Testament talks about the dynamic shame plays in all of our lives. In I Corinthians 1:27 Paul writes, ” . . . God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” Paul uses the word “shame” twice in this verse, both times talking about the embarrassment and humiliation that will come to those who are impressed with themselves.

In the fourth chapter, Paul turns his warnings about pretension directly at the Corinthians. In verses 8-13, where he mocks the arrogance of the Corinthians, he concludes his sarcastic rebuke by saying, “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children” (verse 14). He doesn’t want to shame them, but he is warning them about looming dishonor if they do not reflect on his admonitions.

In Ephesians 5:12, Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to avoid bringing shame on themselves by talking about what ungodly people do. He said, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.” Here, Paul is encouraging the church to constrain it’s own speech in order to be honorable.

I think this is exactly where we are in the American church. We have transitioned from being the body of gratefully redeemed believers encouraging honor and life in Christ, into being the self-righteous group that scrutinizes, criticizes, whines and complains about “those sinners.”

I am convinced that under the guise of hating sin, some have inadvertently switched from being ministers of reconciliation and hope in Christ to being advocates of holding people accountable for their sin. I know it sounds good, but that might leave us as enemies of the Gospel in others and leave us positioned in Satan’s role . . . accusing the brethren.

We must be careful not to become the enemies of Christ’s work in the lives of others, because he does know how to shame his enemies. Chapters 10-18 of Luke include significant warnings for “religious leaders,” “teachers,” and “Pharisees” (those who use the Scriptures to condemn others), all of which provide ample warning to modern leadership. In the midst of his text, Luke notes, “This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did” (Luke 13:17). Here, we have Jesus intentionally shaming the religious leaders, teachers of the Scriptures and the Pharisees, while the common followers were able to see it and rejoice in him.

Christ had the courage to give his life for us, identifying with us as sinners and taking on our shame. He doesn’t impose shame on repentant sinners, only the self-righteous. When describing himself in Luke 18:32, he said, “He (Jesus) will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon.”

He demonstrated Courageous Grace (my wife’s latest book title). Jesus had the courage to identify with us, while we were yet sinners, even though he had full assurance that we would not be 100% free from sin until we see him face to face. I don’t say this to excuse sin, only to explain our role in being Christ-like and relieving shame from those who are in Christ. Probably the strongest identifying markers of an authentic follower of Christ is a willingness to be identified with the sinner and invest in healing and restoration. This identification is contrary to the false Christian leaders of our day who distance themselves from sinners and use the Scriptures to impose shame, actually using the appearance of their own moral superiority to gain power and influence. In doing so, they are denying the Gospel and instead promoting an appearance of godliness that woefully lacks the power of God.

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Love is Our Marker

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

When Jesus said this to his disciples, he was launching a revolution. He didn’t say that education, power, or even theological persuasion would identify his disciples. Nor did he say that training in cross cultural communications or evangelism would prove discipleship. Even though all of these things are important, Jesus said love was the marker of a disciple that would prove to the world that we are, in fact, believers. Interestingly, Bible schools, seminaries, church conferences, and churches have vibrant discussions about many important subjects, but often love is an addendum if mentioned at all. Most evangelicals embrace the need to reach others for the cause of Christ, but this exhortation from Jesus is not central to most discussions on evangelism.

Why? I believe it’s because love is confusing. It’s easier to be committed to a religious ideology, political position, or even a social norm than it is to be loving. Love isn’t a test when the others around us respect us, look like us, act like us, or are socially appropriate around us. Neither is love difficult when it is something we market and sell to reach “those people” or the “little people.”

Christ’s love in us is authenticated when we’ve been insulted, slapped, offended, disappointed, or challenged by someone outside our normal circle of those we like. I think this is why Jesus exhorted us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and to care for the “least of these.” Christian love is something that differentiates us from everyone else because we refuse to hate, label, judge, demonize, and dehumanize. Insisting on respecting others who are very different than we are is a core revelation of Jesus’ exhortation to all of us. We claim that we are the ones set apart because we have Christ in us, which means we’ll leave the 99 to rescue the 1, spend our free time with the socially unacceptable and those who could never benefit us. To identify, as Jesus did, and lose our reputations to become despised and rejected by those who are well respected for the sake of another is Christlike.

We are not believers because we were God’s project. Instead, out of love for us we became the subjects of his heart. He identified with the worst parts of us. To be like him, we might consider doing the same. We break out of the pack when we love – when we demonstrate that we are not part of the world’s system by choosing to love – not as a technique, but because we do, in fact, want to invest our lives in the well being of others regardless of who they are.

My wife and I went through a horrific tragedy in 2006. Prior to that tragedy, I was perceived as a benefit to the body of Christ, was socially acceptable, and, as a result, was deeply loved by many . . . or so I thought. After my failure, Gayle and I noted that theology made no statistical difference in the way people were responding to us. Certainly some were motivated by their commitment to Christ, but not in disproportionate numbers compared to those who did not claim any belief in Christ who also demonstrated hope and kindness toward us. There was the same amount of kindness and support from non-believers as believers. And there was the same level of hatred, judgment, suspicion, misinformation and condemnation from believers as non-believers. Based on the percentages, theology, or claiming to be a born-again Christian, didn’t seem to be a determining factor in the way people responded to us.

Thus, I’ve committed to being loving toward those in the most difficult moments of their lives. When people are nice, it’s easy. When people are struggling, that’s when I can differentiate from the crowd, go the second mile, and sacrifice something valuable to me to make their lives better. I think I’m experiencing a love reformation.

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The Value of Sin

Romans 11:32 reveals God’s priorities. “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” NLT. Think about this and read it again in the NIV, “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

God hates sin in us so much he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. So what would motivate him to bind us over to disobedience? He answers it himself. He wants to make sure we see his response to our sin, which reveals his heart of mercy. Could it be that our comprehending his mercy is of greater value to him than our sinless perfection? Could he be communicating that without him we are flawed, and our conscious realization of that fact motivates us to gratitude? He doesn’t want us to be weak, but even more, he wants us to know that he is our strength.

20th Century Evangelicalism rightly emphasized the destructive power of sin and it’s consequences, correctly encouraging all of us to repent. 21st Century Evangelicalism can now build on that foundation and teach us to respond to the sins of others like Christ does. Christ’s response to our sin is redemptive. Therefore, if we in the church start responding to one another’s sin in a redemptive way, we might better communicate the true solution to the sin problem.

Several years ago a globally known pastor with a large mega-church came to visit me. He said, “Ted, I want to encourage you. I don’t think I would say this to anyone else, but I believe there are two types of sin. One type, the easy type, is the kind we repent of. It’s the kind you have dealt with. The other kind is the kind I have. I have sins that build my ministry, increase my income, and actually cause me to be more respectable. They are the kinds of sins we don’t repent of, sins like– me actually believing I know more than others and am a pretty good guy. I believe I have the answers for everyone. I exaggerate church attendance and hype the impact of my ministry in order to encourage supporters. I blame sinners for the things I don’t like, and condemn people. We don’t repent of these sins because they are respectable. But guys like you get to repent. I envy you” (paraphrased).

This pastor demonstrated to me the point I had observed–those who address sinners in public, appearing to be without sin, often have more grievous sins than the sinner to whom they are responding. Again, the Bible is true. . . all have sinned. Without question, sin is evil. We all need to turn from every form of sin in our lives with resolve and not live in them any longer. But based on this Scripture, could it be that our response to another person’s sin reveals more about us than we think? Based on God revealing himself in response to our sin, could it be that our core is revealed by our response to the sins of another? I think so.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 way OUR hearts are revealed.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 way OUR character is revealed.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 indicator of whether we understand the New Testament.

God sent Jesus in response to our sin, revealing the essence of God which is love. The depth of our sin forced a public affirmation of the depth of his redemptive nature. Our weakness gave him opportunity to demonstrate his strength on our behalf. Our rebellion gave him opportunity to prove himself.

For us to authentically reflect Christ, we will have to see the sins of another as an opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel rather than using it as an platform to rail against the evils of sin and our need to rid the world of the sinners. It’s just not going to happen because. . . we are the sinners, though gratefully redeemed. We are the broken, though being healed. We must not respond to another’s sin as though we ourselves are not in need of mercy. If we imply self-righteousness in our response to others, we inadvertently deny the fundamentals of the Gospel in us and might have actually become an enemy of the Gospel in the one we are condemning. When we respond with smugness or arrogance, we deny the heart of Christ. I propose instead that when another person sins, we use it as our opportunity to demonstrate that we are, in fact, Christ-like.

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