The Lord’s Prayer as a Guide for Reconciliation

This morning on the ride to work I was thinking about the Lord’s Prayer.  Don’t be fooled-  I don’t usually dwell on such things.  Last Wednesday, for example, I spent my morning commute contemplating the trout I was going to catch on the river that afternoon, Thursday was a spiritual meditation an the nuances of the NFL Draft, Friday was a theological reflection on how to keep the neighbor’s cat out of my kid’s sandbox…you get the idea.

But this morning the Matthew 6 prayer came to mind. And this morning I found myself reciting it through the lens of reconciliation.  Through this lens, the Lord’s Prayer becomes a step-by-step understanding of how we become reconciled to both God and each other:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed by your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us ot into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
[For yours is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory forever.
Amen. ]

We could write a book about the way the Lord’s Prayer reflects a heart of reconciliation.  Instead, here’s a simplified “reconciliation” paraphrase, straight out of the SJT (Standard Jeromy Translation):

God,
Your will be done.
We need your provision in this conflict.
Forgive our sinfulness as we try to forgive our fellow sinners,
 and keep us from the trappings that so easily ensnare our hearts in this matter.
Only you have the power to change our hearts. To you be the glory.
Amen.

Forgiveness Is Hard Work

I was cleaning off my desk at work last week (an archeological expedition in itself) when I came upon a copy of an essay by Andree Seu entitled “The Thing We Won’t Do.” Andree writes:

“Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do…

“I asked a few people if they’d ever forgiven anyone, and what it felt like. They gave me answers so pious I knew they’d never done it. I am at the present moment in the maw of temptation, and I can tell you there is nothing exalted about this feeling, this one-two punch to the gut that comes when you even contemplate forgiving, which is as far as I’ve come.”

I wish the whole thing was available to you online–it’s that good–but the best I could find is a version in the World Magazine Archives, which requires a subscription.

But even if all you ever get to read is the excerpt above, it’s a really good reminder of how easy it can be to talk about forgiveness, to think about forgiving, or to exhort others to forgive, but how hard it is to actually do. Forgiveness is the right way, but it is the hard way. Only his grace gives us the ability to go beyond contemplating forgiveness and to actually forgive.

Letting go

Sharon just passed on to me a blog that tells a story of conflict … It’s actually pretty painful to read, given how much frustration and injustice the speaker has experienced.  Not only were Amy and her husband in conflict with someone over a business deal, but Amy admits that she and her husband were often at odds about how to address the situation, and her anger unjustly spilled out against her husband.

I’d encourage you to read her whole post — it’s not long, it’s humbly written, and it contains some great insights.  To whet your appetite, here’s her closing paragraph:

When I was thinking about telling this story, I planned to tell you in detail about how right I was, but in the end, I chose to tell you how wrong I am. It’s not something I’ve overcome; it seems I find myself fighting daily the need for justice in everything from headline crime to a stolen parking spot. Sometimes it’s not about winning, but about letting go.

10 Commandments for Email Communications

Ministry friend Tim Voorhees just sent Ken some very insightful guidelines for email communications.  Ken wrote to our staff: “I commend them to you as an example of biblically-informed wisdom that all of us can benefit from.” 

I agree with Ken, and wanted to pass them on to you all here.  They are also available at www.e-mail10commandments.com/

  1. Confirm that you are interpreting facts accurately to guard against emailing interpretations of the facts that others might find unfair or untrue. (Heed the 9th Commandment; see, e.g., Exodus 23:1, Ephesians 4:25.)
  2. If you have doubts about facts, meet with wise counselors and/or the potential reader(s) of your email to find spirit-led words for communicating the message concerning disputable facts or questionable motives. (Keep in step with the Spirit and do not provoke; see, e.g., Galatians 5:25-26. Be like Jesus and try to understand the temptations that caused the listener to do that which offended you; see, e.g., Hebrews 2:17-18. Do not impugn motives; see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 4:5)
  3. Do not copy others on emails unless you are certain that the email is true, fair, and necessary. Be especially careful not to blind copy emails to people who might form judgments based on incomplete information or emotionally-charged statements. (Do not sow discord; see, e.g., Proverbs 6:19.)
  4. Do not send emails with negative policy directives unless earnest efforts have been made to discuss the directives in person and each negative directive points to a positive alternative. (Follow the example of our Lord, who always showed positive alternatives. Use affirming language; see, e.g., Ephesians 4:29, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25, etc.)
  5. Exercise care when using email to develop or mandate new policies regarding emotionally-charged issues. (See how Paul empathized with the target of his communications, as in the book of Philemon, before suggesting solutions. Think before you write; see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:20. Focus on issues rather than people; see, e.g., Titus 2:7-8)
  6. If responding to a negative email, keep emails brief and gentle. (Be quick to listen and slow to speak; see, e.g., James 1:19. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger; see, e.g., Proverbs 15:1)
  7. Do not assume that the person reading your email knows that you trust, respect, and value (at least some things about) him or her. (If you are writing about a negative issue, heed the wisdom of Apostles Paul and Peter who start letters about even the most egregious sins with warm and affirming language.)
  8. Pray for wisdom about using logic to base your position on spiritual truths expressed with spiritual words. (See, e.g., John 1:1, 1 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Peter 4:11.)
  9. If you send an email with incorrect information or information sent to the wrong person, make a Biblical apology. (See http://covenant.net/Articles/Confession.mht and the related verses in Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:8-9, Luke 15:11-24, Luke 19:1-9, and Eph. 4:22-32.)
  10. Practice the Golden Rule. Ask how you would feel if receiving the types of emails that you send to others. Seek to uphold email standards that, if practiced by everyone in the Christian community, would show a desire to maintain the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. (See, e.g., Ephesians 4:3 and Matthew 7:12.)

If you’re interested in more suggestions for writing emails that will help you to keep the peace and not stir up conflict, we have a great article on our website about that very subject: Keeping the Peace – Writing Email that will not Stir up Conflict.

Peacemaking 201

My wife and I had a pretty big conflict yesterday. (Ironically, it was related to peacemaking! Go figure.) You can read her take on the situation over at her blog.

I don’t have too much to add, but it got me thinking… why is it that two people who have been steeped in peacemaking for the last 8-10 years (we teach on it, write on it, read about it, or think about it pretty much every day) can STILL have such a heated disagreement?

There are all sorts of “rules of peacemaking” that we both know inside and out (like the 7 A’s of Confession that Tara talks about in her post). But quite frankly, they didn’t matter at the moment. 

I am quite sure that we both felt that the argument was AT LEAST 90% the other person’s fault. (It’s amazing how that happens!) And I wasn’t in any mood to take ownership of my perceived 10% responsibility. My understanding of how I was supposed to own 100% of my contribution to the conflict (no matter how small) just didn’t matter at the moment.

I had the words of our pastor echoing in my head from our last Sunday School class (on marriage, no less). He exhorted us men to be the “chief confessor” and show our leadership by leading our families toward reconciliation. Even though I thought about these things, again, it simply didn’t matter at the moment. 

So my problem, as it is for all of us, was that of unbelief. In that moment, while I knew all these good things, I really didn’t believe them. From a pragmatic standpoint, I didn’t believe that acting differently would make the situation go better. But at that moment, I ultimately didn’t believe that the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and ongoing work in Tara’s life (and my own) would make any diffence in that situation. The gospel didn’t mean much to me right then, and it showed in my speech and actions.

God was gracious to help us eventually work through it, but in the end, we could only fall on his mercy. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

I’ve been thinking for some time about what “Peacemaking 201” — that next level of learning about peacemaking — looks like. What are the things Christians should learn and study that aren’t contained in The Peacemaker? I think that’s a valid question and that there are a lot of interesting issues that we as individuals and churches should grapple with. But my experience yesterday shows me that Peacemaking 201 is really just the lab course for Peacemaking 101. Day by day, I need to keep learning to apply the basic truth of Peacemaking 101 — that the gospel of Jesus Christ affects how we relate to one another.

I don’t think I’ll be graduating any time soon.  

My take on Together for the Gospel

Last week I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of incredibly gifted speakers at the 2008 Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference in Louisville, KY. Each speaker stayed true the title of the event: they joyfully proclaimed the common ground that all believers share in the gospel and gave a delicious foretaste of the oneness that all Christians can find in the love of Jesus Christ.The speakers’ inspiring messages covered a wide spectrum of gospel-grounded topics related to core doctrines of the faith, racial reconciliation, radical Christian sacrifice, and sustaining the pastor’s soul. All of these messages are available for free online at http://www.t4g.org/08/media/ (just right click on “Download” after each talk and indicate where you want to save the file on your computer). If I had to put the talks in order, I’d suggest starting with John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, and C.J. Mahaney. Then be sure to enjoy Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, and Albert Mohler as well. Every talk is worth listening to.

As good as the messages were, what most of us enjoyed even more was the love and mutual respect the speakers showed for one another in the panel discussions that followed each keynote. Seeing men from such a wide range of denominational and theological perspectives deferring to and humbly affirming one another as they discussed the practical applications of the gospel, gave us all a foretaste of the unity we anticipate one day in heaven.

I also enjoyed many wonderful times of fellowship (read “meals”) with many pastors who have partnered with us for years. Another highlight of the conference was the countless conversations I had with people who just walked up to me and briefly mentioned how much our ministry has changed their lives or how much their people are enjoying going through our materials for churches. I lost track of the number of times people said, “If it were not for your training, my marriage/church/ministry would not have survived.” Of course we all know it was God’s grace inspiring and working through our materials that made the difference. But it was an enormous encouragement to be reminded of how God continues to work through PM to help people love and live out the gospel more fully.

Please bless your soul by taking advantage of the free downloads of these messages, which illustrate the wonderful togetherness we all have in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Baseball and Forgiveness

I consider myself the least cerebral of any of the bloggers here. If you’ve been reading this blog long, I am sure that you’ve probably seen ample evidence of this. I say this less to denigrate myself than to give kudos to my colleagues. They are doing a great job on this blog. But as an example of the differences between us, Molly reads Miraslov Volf in her spare time. I read the Chicago Tribune sports page online in mine.

But every now and then, even the sports page turns up an item related to peacemaking. Here’s the headline that caught my attention:  

Time for Cubs, their fans to forgive Durham

Now for 99% of you, this won’t mean anything. If you are a baseball fan, it might ring a bell. But if any of you are doomed to the lifelong affliction of being a Chicago Cubs fan, as I am, you’ll know exactly what it means. I still remember exactly where I was when it happened: milking the cows (now there’s a piece of information I’m sure you didn’t know about me). It was 1984, and I was a high school kid who couldn’t stand to miss any part of the game, and since the cows didn’t grasp the importance of the moment, I brought the little black and white portable TV out to the barn and propped it up on a hay bale. As the ball went through Leon Durham legs, the Cubs began to crumble, as did the hope for a Cubs appearance in the World Series. And I was left to cry in my milk, so to speak.

As an aside, let me just say that I don’t think athletes need to be forgiven by fans for an on-the-field error. It was a mistake. There’s nothing to forgive. Sure, it was a heartbreaking moment–the suffering is real (why else would I remember the moment so clearly after all these years?), but it certainly pales when compared to sickness, hunger, death and other deeper suffering that happens in this life. Let’s move on, OK?

There are many other examples of an individual changing the course of a major sporting event — Scott Norwood’s kick, Chris Webber’s timeout, Nick Anderson’s free throws, Bill Buckner’s fielding gaffe in the ’86 World Series. And again, those names may mean nothing to you, but to the fans of their respective teams they sure do. Each one seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on one of sports’ biggest stages.

Bill Buckner’s story is what prompted the sportswriter above to write his article. You see, Bill Buckner was “forgiven” by the Boston fans this year. After years of abuse at the hands of disappointed fans, when Buckner threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season, he was greeted by a loud and lengthy standing ovation. Tears reportedly streamed down his cheeks as he experienced this moment of “redemption.” The fans had moved on and had finally embraced him again.

So why did they do it? Were the Boston fans just being altruistic? Umm… just ask a Yankees fan if that’s the case. Did time heal the wounds? (After all, it’s been 22 years!) Well, through 2004 (that’s 18 years), Red Sox fans still felt the sting of his error, so it wasn’t time that healed those wounds.   

But everything changed for those fans in 2004 (and again in 2007). The Red Sox won the World Series. Twice. Bouyed by the euphoria of a couple of championships, they were now able to let bygones be bygones and embrace as a hero the one who had formerly been a goat.

I know I need to bring this back around to peacemaking for “normal folks” here. (If I haven’t already lost all you non-sports people a long time ago.) What’s most interesting to me about this whole thing is the tendency for us to offer forgiveness (or absolution or whatever you want to call it in this case) much more easily when things are going well for us.  When we are in a good place and feeling good about life, we are more likely to brush off a critical comment or other offense against us. Like the Red Sox fans and Bill Buckner.

But it’s a rare thing for most of us to be in such a place (rare as a Cubs championship, for some of us). We are much more likely to be struggling in one form or another, experiencing great suffering in this life. And that tends to magnify our feelings toward what is done to us. In that situation, our tendency is point outward and to look for someone else to blame. “Look what they’ve done,” we think. “It’s all their fault that I’m experiencing this suffering.” We look for a scapegoat, and somehow, feel a little better to find one.

The concept of a scapegoat actually had its beginnings in the Old Testament — in Leviticus 16, it talks about how one goat was to be sacrificed and one was to be sent out into the desert; the two goats represented the payment for sin and the complete removal of sin. The peoples’ sin was on the goats, and as the “scapegoat” was cast out, so was their guilt.

Remember how Jesus is the fulfillment of that Old Testament image. Christ took the scorn and ridicule of the crowd. He was spit upon, mocked, and beaten. He was taken outside the city, and though he had committed no wrong, he became the scapegoat and bore the sins of many. The cross allows us to look rightly at ourselves and at others, giving us the ability to extend to others the forgiveness that has been so graciously given to us through Christ. Alleluia! What a savior!

So as we think about scapegoats in sports or our tendency to blame others, let’s remember Christ. The gospel even applies to baseball.

And by the way, Mr. Durham, you owe me nothing. We’re good. I’m over it.

The Pope and Peacemaking

Molly, thanks for the great post on forgiving public figures.  It seems that current events are going to allow us to directly apply your wisdom.

Pope Benedict XVI’s  visit to the United States has been long anticipated due to the sexual abuse scandal that has caused the church to reel here in the U.S.  Many are wondering how this new Pope will handle the wrongs committed against so many.

As a peacemaker I am especially interested in how this global faith leader responds to wrongs committed by the church he leads, and is therefore responsible for.  And I must say that I have been encouraged.  Let me share some excerpts from the Pope’s homily, given yesterday to 45,000 Catholics in Nationals Ball Park in Washington:  

“… As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ…

‘Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!’ (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today’s Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place…”

The Pope sets the stage for what is to come by acknowledging the “Spirit’s gift of repentance,” which is the “good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.” He continues:

“It is in the context of this hope born of God’s love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church.”

This is not the only time the Pope has acknowledged the church’s sin.  He has repeatedly sought forgiveness from his pulpit at the Vatican and has addressed it three times already since being in America.  The Pope then leans on Christ’s grace for future reconciliation:

“Through the surpassing power of Christ’s grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning.

 To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.”

I won’t attempt a 12-point analysis on the quality of the Pope’s apology and acknowledgement of sin, but here’s what I’m encouraged by:

1.  The Pope’s reliance upon the Christ’s act on the cross as our source of reconciliation.

2.  The Pope’s acknowledgement of the church’s sin.

3.  The Pope’s apparent reliance on God as the source of renewal and future hope.

Benedict also met with victims of abuse yesterday.  He listened to their stories, asked forgiveness, and prayed with them. 

I don’t know what is going to come of this visit from the Pope, but if the Catholic church is going to experience reconciliation on this issue it will begin with hearts that resonate with the words of the Pope.

Forgiving Public Figures

I just came across a post on World Magazine’s blog called “Forgiving Public Figures.”  In it, Jonathan Seidl contemplates how we respond when a public figure makes a confession and seeks the public’s pardon.  He asks, “When public figures say they are sorry, do we forgive them?”   Even if we say “yes,” forgiveness fades and hostilities arise the next time that public figure says something with which we disagree or abuses his or her position, such that we get tired of forgiving over and over.

In contrast to that mindset, Seidl quotes Cal Thomas, who suggests that forgiveness may be our most powerful tool:

[Forgiveness] is a concept virtually unknown in our take-no-prisoners culture. So much rhetoric today is angry and judgmental and condemning. So much is about defeating the other person, taking revenge and demanding entitlements. … [T]he power of forgiveness—especially when forgiveness is not asked for—has a power that no one else can touch.

Great food for thought — that forgiveness isn’t just powerful in a personal or church context, but also in the public sphere.