How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

how-to-forgive

Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:3-11″ display=”God blesses”] the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:21-22″ display=”equivalent to murder”]. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:36-40″ display=”God’s will for us”].

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths [biblegateway passage=”Luke 23:33-34″ display=”he asked God to forgive”]. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be [biblegateway passage=”Colossians 3:12-14″ display=”the kind of people who forgive”] because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?

To Please God’s Heart

to-please-gods-heart

As a believer, my greatest opportunity and responsibility is to please God’s heart. There’s nothing I should want more.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a fundraising banquet for an awesome new organization located here on Indy’s west side. (If you haven’t heard of Active Grace, here’s your chance.)

As I prepared for my short devotion and thought about Active Grace’s mission to display the grace of Jesus by meeting the needs of people in our community, Micah 6:8 popped into my mind. And, I realized—of all the wonderful things we could attempt to do to please God’s heart—there is one thing in Scripture that seems to rise to the top of the list.

The following is my outline from that night. As you attempt to please God’s heart, I hope this is an encouragement to you.


What can believers do that most pleases God’s heart?

Is it heartfelt worship? In Psalm 100, the psalmist exhorts Israel to come before the lord with gladness, joyful songs, thanksgiving, and praise. Certainly, God is pleased when his people worship him and glorify his name. In fact, he wants us to live the entirety of our lives as a personal act of worship to him. He is worthy of praise.

Is it doctrinal precision? In his first letter to his protégé, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to apply himself to his life and doctrine and that by persisting in that effort he’d save himself and his hearers. God has revealed himself to his people in the Scriptures; they are God-breathed. The Scriptures reveal all we need for life and godliness. If he has revealed himself to us, it stands to reason that his people should invest the mental effort to know him with great precision and to prevent doctrinal error.

Is it personal purity? In the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the religious leaders of their time, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. God, who is holy, created us to bear his holy image. Without a doubt, God wills his people to put off sin and to put on his holiness.

Is it possible that all three of these—whether separate or combined—somehow fall short when it comes to pleasing our Heavenly Father? Almost in exasperation, [biblegateway passage=”Micah 6:6-8″ display=”the prophet Micah”] reflects this struggle:

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The answer to these rhetorical questions, of course, is that none of these (in any amount) will suffice for one who desires to stand in the Lord’s presence. Not glad, heartfelt worship alone. Not doctrinal precision alone. Not even a spotless heart.

Well, then, what can believers do that most pleases his heart?

Micah continues with the answer to the question:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Justice. Mercy. Devotion. God is most pleased when his people worship him by showing justice, by being merciful, and by walking humbly with him.

Over and over again, in God’s Word, he demonstrates his love for people on the margins of society, those who are oppressed by the powerful, those who are systemically deprived of justice, the poor who cannot provide for themselves, the sick who are in need of healing and hope, widows with no one to care for them, and orphans who are abandoned and alone.

Why is God so interested in these people? He created them. They bear his image. And, they are precisely the people who most easily recognize their need for him, for his provision, and for the salvation that can only come from him.

And, these are precisely the people God consistently urges believers to protect, to provide for, to honor, to welcome with glad hearts, and to love. This truth is so pervasive in Scripture that Micah can equate the act of providing justice to others with true worship, the showing of mercy with doing God’s will, and both as central to a thriving relationship with him—as devotion and as worship, pleasing to him.

To exploit the fatherless is to invite God’s wrath:

Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 23:10-11″]).

God defends those who are most defenseless and calls his people to do the same:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing, ([biblegateway passage=”Deuteronomy 10:18″]).

God calls us to be active in showing his grace:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow, ([biblegateway passage=”Isaiah 1:17″]).

He wants us to show kindness to the needy:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 14:31″]).

Providing for the poor is tied to spiritual blessings and curses:

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 28:27″]).

Perhaps all of this is so true of our heavenly Father because of what he did in and through Jesus Christ:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich, ([biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 8:9″]).

It’s no coincidence that James, Jesus’ own half-brother, summarized this issue so well. What is most pleasing to the Father?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, ([biblegateway passage=”James 1:27″]).

When I first heard about Active Grace, I became so excited. I immediately thought of Micah’s words. And, I knew that God would continue to do amazing things in and through this organization because I could see that what was so close to their heart is precisely what is closest to God’s heart: caring for the poor.

Once again, let’s hear Micah’s words:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


Do you want to please God’s heart?

God is most pleased with his people when we’re most focused on bringing justice and mercy to those who most need it and when we humbly walk with him.

The Power To Do Good

the-power-to-do-good

A particular proverb has been rattling around in my brain for some time. It’s one of those bits of wisdom that has a way of sinking down and taking hold in my heart.

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act,” (Proverbs 3:27).

Nineteen words. Twitter-worthy at fewer than 140 characters. Limitless in application. Truly, I don’t believe I could ever exhaust the application of this short snippet. Here’s how this verse has been provoking me lately.

1. I have the power to do good.

I have almost unlimited potential to do good. The problem for me is when I begin to substitute “heroic” for “good.” I don’t have many opportunities to help elderly ladies across the street, pull children out of burning buildings, build hospitals, or make grand public gestures. But, I can remember to ask my friend how his grandmother’s health is. I can take the time to get to know the people around me and take a genuine interest in them. I can lend my help to carry furniture for my new neighbor. I can give a generous tip, open my house to guests, or buy a sandwich for someone who is hungry.

2. The good I might do is due to more people than I might initially imagine.

The homeless woman who sits outside of Starbucks every day. The coworker who treats me with less respect than I believe I deserve. The neighbor kid who is spreading dandelion seeds in my back yard. The single mom who is serving me at the restaurant. My boss. My family. Who deserves respect? I can tell you that there are many more who do deserve respect than there are who do not. I go wrong every time I glibly assume someone isn’t worthy of my respect. And, I miss opportunities to bless and encourage them.

3. Sometimes it isn’t in my power to act; but most of the time it is.

I easily become overwhelmed in the fact of others hardships. I routinely think, “What could I possibly do to help? Their needs are so much greater than I have the capacity to impact.” When I look around and see problems, there’s something very important I’m not seeing: people. I might not be able to reverse a social injustice, but I can be kind to a woman who is oppressed. I might not be able to reverse someone’s financial slide, but I can buy him lunch. I simply can’t continue to write off opportunities to do good for people because problems are too daunting.

As uncomfortable as it might be, I hope God continues to rattle my cage with this verse. I’ve passed up so many opportunities in my lifetime. I don’t want to let them continue to slip by without giving them a second thought.

What about you?

Do you recognize that you have the power to do good? How broad—or narrow—is your perception of whom you might impact? And, have you failed to realize when it is in your power to act?

May all of us realize that we have the power to do good!

The Church for Immigrants

the-church-for-immigrants

Is the church for immigrants?

I’ve been thinking about the issue of immigration. After kicking around some ideas as a response to the State of the Union Address, I took a look at what the Bible says about the issue. The next question I’m asking flows from that biblical perspective: What is the Church’s role – and the role of individual believers?

Churches in America are uniquely positioned to minister to the immigrants in their communities.

Wouldn’t it be great if your church came to be known as the church for immigrants? How might this happen?

How to become the church for immigrants

Here are a few simple suggestions.

1. Establish language learning groups.

Can you imagine having to uproot your family, move across a border and try to survive in a land full of strangers who speak an entirely different language? It takes loads of courage and more than a little creativity and resourcefulness. It also takes a mammoth amount of work.

Christians should be first in line to help out. Most churches have the space. And, most churches have the people: Spanish teachers, English speaking former immigrants, or high school students who have acquired enough language to help them make an initial connection. A little bit of advertising, a little word of mouth, and a language learning group could be up and running.

And, notice, I didn’t just say these should be English classes. No! I think they should be discussion groups where English speakers teach and learn and non-English speakers teach and learn. The reciprocity would set the stage for great learning and relationships.

2. Offer guidance.

Let’s be honest. It’s difficult for born-and-bred Americans to navigate most of the administrative or legal processes we come upon. When is the last time you signed a contract? Took out a loan? Renewed your driver’s license? Applied for a job? It’s a real hassle. Now, imagine trying to do that in a second language. Yikes!

The church could be on the front lines, guiding immigrants through any number of processes: enrolling their children in school, getting drivers’ licenses, filling out medical paperwork, writing resumes, opening bank accounts, applying for insurance, finding affordable housing. The list could go on and on. Imagine the relief it would be for immigrants to know they’re being patiently and skillfully guided. What a huge ministry!

3. Meet physical needs.

Immigrants often arrive in America with so little. They have only a few of the things they really need. Poverty can become a grind. And, unchecked, it can wear out immigrants and their families, leaving them hopeless and desperate.

Conversely, Christians in America have so much. We have a surplus. And, with a compelling vision and a simple process, churches with hearts for immigrants could stockpile huge amounts of products to share with immigrants in their communities. There is an ample supply of the things you typically think to donate: clothes, shoes, coats, kitchen supplies, toiletries and more. But, when challenged, it’s amazing the big things people will donate: appliances, furniture, vehicles, living space. I’ve learned to never underestimate the generosity of Christians who are shown a need and then challenged to meet it.

4. Befriend.

Can you imagine how lonely you’d be if you moved from your home to a foreign land? Can you imagine being on your own without your family or friends? It would be miserable.

I understand the struggle of some well-intentioned Christians, feeling incapable of making a difference. The large gaps we perceive can leave us feeling unable to help. But, I’ve found that although many immigrants can be shy—they perceive the gap too—they are extremely grateful when others take the initiative to move toward them, to extend an offer of friendship. Immigrants crave the same things we do: love, acceptance, identification, friendship. The next time you have the opportunity, reach out, even if you’re unable to use words. Make a move and see what happens through your act of kindness.

There are literally hundreds of ways churches could minister to the immigrant populations in their communities. They’re only limited by the limits of their creativity.

How awesome would it be if your church—if my church—were to be known as the church for immigrants!

The Bible and the Immigrant Experience

the-bible-and-the-immigrant-experience

I’ve recently written that the issue of immigration is provocative to me. A big cause for this is the fact that the immigrant experience is a central theme in the Bible.

The immigrant experience in the Bible

At the core of the Patriarchs’ identity was the experience of being foreigners in a foreign land.

God called Abraham from his native land with the promise that he would go before him and that he would lead him to the land he would one day inherit (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham obeyed and went. God then entered into a covenant with Abraham. In doing so, he promised he would “give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God,” (Genesis 17:8). The only small parcel of land Abraham would own was the burial ground he purchased for his wife (Genesis 23:4). Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. They owned nothing else. Eventually, God would lead the entire family from their campsite in Canaan to what would become bitter slavery in Egypt. Certainly, next to the Promise, the immigrant experience was the most defining feature of life for the Patriarchs.

When God formed his nation, he formed it from a nation of aliens and slaves.

God’s own people toiled in slavery in the land of Egypt for over 400 years (Exodus 1:1-14). They lived in the land as aliens. They were oppressed. Demeaned. Beaten. Without representation. They spoke a different language. Had different customs. Had no formal institution in which to gather and forge an identity. They were prohibited from carrying out their religious ceremonies. They had no rights. Only the faint memory of a promise. Generations came and went until God sent a deliverer, Moses, to wrench them from Pharaoh’s hand and to guide them to freedom. The defining moment of the Exodus, the event that symbolized the birth of the nation of Israel, was the Passover. Whom did Moses include in that first Passover? The children of Abraham, of course. Whom else? Any foreigner living among the Israelites who was willing to identify with the nation (Exodus 12:48-49).

At Sinai, God made provision in the Law for the foreigners who would inhabit the Promised Land beside his people.

God’s instructed Israel to deal fairly with foreigners. Why? Because “you know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 23:9). He even included them in religious activities (Leviticus 17:8). God commanded his people to treat foreigners well and to include them in the life of the nation precisely because they understood and could identify with their plight. They knew what it meant, how it felt and all that was entailed. That empathy was to fuel goodwill and provision, justice and fairness, mercy and compassion.

The Bible is the story of a nation of exiles who are delivered by God himself.

As the story of the nation of Israel unfolds, through a long, looping spiral of devotion and betrayal, repentance and rebellion, eventually God’s people ended up, once again, as foreigners in a strange land. The Old Testament records the sad story of the destruction of the nation, most poignantly seen in the destruction of the Temple, and the deportation of the people. And the New Testament tells the story of how God once and forever provided an end to the exile and oppression under which his people groaned.

He did this by creating a brand new nation, a nation made entirely of aliens and immigrants.

How did he do this? He purchased freedom for all who would depend upon him in faith by means his own death, burial and resurrection. He returned us from exile and created a new nation. This nation isn’t exclusively comprised of people from the nation of Israel. The Church is a gathering of foreigners from all nations, people who are welcomed not as “strangers and foreigners” but as brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Then, as Christians go about their business in the world, they do so as “temporary residents and foreigners,” (1 Peter 2:11).

There are several biblical principles—principles that we might be bold enough to embrace—that emerge:

  • To be a Christian is to be a foreigner. Therefore, we ought to be uniquely suited to understand the plight of the foreigners in our communities.
  • To be a Christian is to welcome foreigners because we understand what being a foreigner is like.
  • To be a Christian is to join God, working to bring his justice, mercy and provision to the dispossessed and disenfranchised.
  • To be a Christian is to have a heart that swells with the kind of compassion that leads to action.

If you and I follow Christ, we pledge our allegiance to the highest Authority. In so doing, we alienate ourselves from the world. We look, think and act differently. (If we don’t, we must examine ourselves.) From that humble position, the Church can be the Church and Christians can be Christians—and act in good conscience—no matter what public opinion states, no matter what laws are passed or not passed. If we are living for Christ, we know what it is to be aliens. And, we should be willing to do whatever we can to put that biblical worldview to action for the benefit of those around us.

This is a big challenge to me, personally. And, I hope it’s a challenge my fellow immigrants will take more seriously as well.