Bitterness by any other name…

I’m preparing for some teaching next week and came across some quotes that a colleague had pulled from Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book Choosing Forgiveness.  She has some really powerful statements on unforgiveness and bitterness:

In our therapeutic culture, it’s widely acceptable to acknowledge that we’ve been “hurt” or “wounded” — words that focus on the wrong that has been done to us. But it’s a lot harder to admit that we’ve let that hurt escalate (or descend, to use a better word) into unforgiveness or bitterness — which puts responsibility on our shoulders.

Our society has become so riddled with rancor and bitterness we almost consider it a normal response to life. Every day in America, tends of thousands of new lawsuits are filed — millions a year! And those who don’t let their bitterness lead them into litigation or erupt into violent crimes and addictions are often saddled with more subtle forms of expression: silent distrust, insecurity, illogical fears, sullen indifference, compulsive agitation and restlessness. (Choosing Forgiveness, p. 57)

Wow!  And then she gives a list of diagnostic questions to help us see if we are harboring bitterness without even realizing it. See if you relate to any of these statements:

  • I often replay in my mind the incident(s) that hurt me.
  • When I think of a particular person or situation, I still feel angry.
  • I try hard not to think about the person, event, or circumstance that caused me so much pain.
  • I have a subtle, sweet desire to see this person pay for what he or she did to me.
  • Deep in my heart, I wouldn’t mind if something bad happened to the person(s) who hurt me.
  • I often find myself telling others how this person has hurt me.
  • A lot of my conversations revolve around this situation.
  • Whenever his or her name comes up, I am more likely to say something negative than something positive about him or her.
    (page 58)

I find this to be a really helpful list for identifying where I may be harboring unforgiveness or bitterness and not even be aware of it.  But let’s not leave off on the bad news; read this final word of encouragement from Nancy:

The cure for bitterness is to trust both His hand and His heart and to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that [you] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NASB). Yes, grace is there, because He is there.  (page 80)

Punching bags.

A few months ago I was teaching kids at my church the virtue of the month:  forgiveness.  Before starting the class I heard a girl talking about how she hated a boy because of the way he treated her.

             “He treats me like I am nothing!”

I then reminded her of the topic we were studying that month and asked her to read the verse on the board:

             “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  —Colossians 3:1

              “Do you think you need to forgive him?”

               “No, I want to punch him in the face!”

Although I might not say that, I can still have that response internally when someone hurts me.  They hurt me, so they deserve to be hurt.  Perhaps I have the same attitude as Íñigo Montoya in the “Princess Bride.”  The man spends his whole life searching for the man who killed his father just so he can get revenge.

During the class, I brought up different aspects of forgiveness.  It wasn’t until I sat the kids down in a circle and asked them to share a time with me when someone had forgiven them that I saw that little girl’s heart soften.

Sometimes, the best thing to do when we are hurt by someone else is to remember how we have been forgiven, even when our greatest desire at that moment might be to hit the punching bag or the person.

This is how GOD showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only SON into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrafice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”–1 John 4:9-11 

Oh Be Careful Little Mouth…

From this week’s PeaceMeal:

Oh Be Careful Little Mouth

“Even a fool is thought wise…and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Proverbs 17:28

Reckless words, spoken hastily and without thinking, inflame many conflicts. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18; cf. Prov. 13:3; 17:28; 21:23; 29:20). Although we may seldom set out deliberately to hurt others with our words, sometimes we do not make much of an effort not to hurt others. We simply say what comes to mind without thinking about the consequences. In the process, we may hurt and offend others, which only aggravates conflict.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict,  by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 121.

Food for Thought

What have you said recently without thinking?

The word “reckless” usually conjures up images of someone driving a car with no concern for the people around them. A reckless driver can cause havoc on the highway, putting his or her life, as well as the lives of others, in harm’s way. If we spot someone driving recklessly, we usually find a cell phone and alert the police. But what about someone speaking recklessly?

Simply saying what comes to mind can be looked upon as being authentic and honest. People admire the plain-speak quality and often promote folks who can do it. But it can also be looked upon as not thinking, or reckless. The lives of the one speaking and those hearing then are caught in harm’s way. And if you’re caught in harm’s way, the result is usually some kind of harm. Oh, be careful little mouth what you say.

A Little About Peacemaker Ministries

If you’ve visited Tim Challies’ blog today, you’ll see that I had the privilege of writing answers to several interview questions that introduced people to our ministry. If you’d like to get a sense of what makes us “tick” here at the  ministry, I’d encourage you to read it.

Let me reprint a section of my answer on why we exist, because of any of the questions, this gets at the core of why we do what we do (and frankly, why I get up and come to work here everyday):

Why does Peacemaker Ministries exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?

As Francis Schaeffer noted in The Mark of the Christian:

Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.

Isn’t this an amazing thought—that God has essentially given the world the right to judge whether the gospel is true based on how Christians get along with each other? Along these lines, it is our goal to help the bride of Christ become more lovely and beautiful in her unity so that a watching world will readily see that the gospel really is true.

Yes, we know we are a parachurch ministry. That means that our role is squarely one of a bridesmaid supporting and directing attention to the bride rather than being in competition with her. We want people to look at the church and say, “Wow! Look how they persevere with one another. Look how they love each other. How is that possible? I want to learn more … “

For this to happen, Christians must learn to be peacemakers. And so as a ministry, we desire to help create churches that are marked by peace and unity, even in the midst of real-life relational struggles.

An Appreciation of Martin Luther King, Jr.

A guest post from Chip Zimmer, our VP of International Ministries:

I came of age in the sixties, a time of protest and upheaval.   By the time Dr. King was assassinated, in 1968, I was 19 and a sophomore in college, thoroughly caught up in the justness of the civil rights cause.  But, that is not where I started.

I started as a 14 year-old boy who first became fully aware of the civil rights movement watching events in Birmingham as they unfolded on the evening news.  The year was 1963.  Dr. King had gone there to protest the city’s segregationist laws and had been arrested with five others when they sought service at a stand-up lunch counter.  White church leaders in Birmingham responded with a statement calling the demonstrations “unwise and untimely.”  Dr. King’s reply to them has since become known as “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

The letter sets forth Dr. King’s rationale for “nonviolent direct action.”  He quotes William Gladstone (“justice too long delayed is justice denied”) and cites the brave stance of early Christians who were willing to “face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”  He also chides the church of his day for being too often a “thermometer” recording the “ideas and principles of popular opinion,” rather than playing the vibrant role it once had as the “thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

In 1963, I was very much in the camp of those white Birmingham pastors who believed that African-Americans should be patient, that change would come.  Over the next five years I slowly understood that the time for change was now.  As Dr. King put it in his letter, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given right… I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”  Dr. King’s steady leadership and commitment to justice and nonviolence were beacons of clarity, helping me navigate the turmoil of campus life.  

As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and his legacy, I’m reminded of the words of Proverbs 31:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Who are the poor and needy of our day, the ones who cannot speak for themselves?  Both Scripture and our legacy as a nation call us to respond.

Michael Oh on Reconciliation

I just finished watching a video of Michael Oh speaking at Urbana.  Here’s the official description of the video: “Michael Oh uses his own history of anger toward the Japanese to explain that reconciliation begins with a personal conviction of sin. As a Korean-American pastor and missionary to Japan, he has learned that we who are loved undeservedly must love unreservedly.”

I found this video so powerful that it literally took my breath away at several points.  It’s 12 minutes long, but if you find the time to watch it, I think you’ll find that it’s worth every minute.

Michael Oh from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

Get to Know Ken Sande

If you are interested in getting to know some intimate details on Ken Sande, the president of Peacemaker Ministries, then visit CJ Mahaney’s blog for a multiple part interview. Part 1 and Part 2 are both available.

I mean, where else would you find out that Ken (the peacemaker) likes books and movies on war and military history! (And that he gets up waaay to early for my tastes. I’m a slacker in comparison.)

Forgiveness is costly

I’ve been working my way through Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods and really appreciated this quote on forgiveness yesterday.  Such an important thing to remember when we’re counseling somebody about forgiveness — not only is it not easy, but it is actually very costly:

At every point in the Bible, the writers are at pains to stress that God’s grace and forgiveness, while free to the recipient, are always costly for the giver. From the earliest parts of the Bible, it was understood that God could not forgive without sacrifice. No one who is seriously wronged can “just forgive” the perpetrator. If you have been robbed of money, opportunity, or happiness, you can either make the wrongdoer pay it back or you can forgive. But when you forgive, that means you absorbb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.

Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 89.


A guest post from our Exec VP, Gary Friesen:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.  Ephesians 5:8-14

We all have a natural inclination to keep secrets.  Sometimes our secrets are big and sometimes they are small. 

These are the sort of secrets that eat away at us from the inside out.  They usually start out with us lying to ourselves and pretending to ourselves that we are something different than we really are.  Over time, keeping these secrets requires us to lie to others, “what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

These secrets almost always eventually surface, sometimes with devastating outcomes.  Media loves to expose the layers of secrets that celebrities keep. Anyone with a pulse knows that Tiger Woods kept a secret, and we can all see the unfolding train wreck of his family life. 

At the root of many conflicts are secrets.  Large or small, the root of our conflicts is traced to the secret desires of our hearts (James 4:1).  And everyone knows that keeping these sorts of secrets is wrong — after all, that’s why we keep them! 

A few days ago a new friend told me about his secret.  He had been keeping this secret from his wife for years, and this led to another secret: that he and his wife were separated even while maintaining the image of a stable and happy marriage to everyone who knew them.  I have friends who have kept secrets about what they view on the internet, how they complete their tax returns, deep felt hurts inflicted by others, even the way they eat and drink. 

Now the good news:  the child born two thousand years ago, half way around the world in the backwater of backwaters, went to his death and lives today so that we can be truthful about our secrets and be healed from their devastating impact.  Jesus himself powerfully declared his mission statement in Luke 4:18-19:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Our Heavenly Father sent Jesus to free us from the prison of our own lies and secrets. Will you join me this year in prayerfully turning from keeping secrets and telling lies to telling the truth?  Because of Christ, we can turn toward eternal healing by telling the truth, perhaps for the first time, to someone we trust.