Of Cell Phones and Forgiveness

From Kerri Goss, our Conference Manager:

I ran across this article today on my Yahoo home page. It is an interesting story about a man’s son who ran up his cell phone bill to $18,000! The article is silent about any sort of discipline the son received, but I know if I had a child who ran up that high of a cell phone bill, then discipline would definitely be part of the process!  

The dad complained, and the cell phone bill was cut in half. Then the dad complained some more, and finally, they announced that the money was “uncollectible” and that the situation was “done.” The cell phone company decided to close the case and write off the expense.  Seems like a very generous offer on the part of the cell phone company, doesn’t it? But the dad still wants to know who will take care of his credit report.

It reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving servant. Remember this story? It is in the context of forgiveness that Jesus talks about a servant who owed his master a very large sum of money. When his master gives him over to the collection agency or asks for the money the servant begs and pleads for a pardon. The master grants him forgiveness. However, that same servant turns around and demands that another servant who owed him a very small amount of money pay up. When that servant begs and pleads for a pardon, it is not granted. Jesus reprimands the unforgiving servant for his wicked ways and at the end of the story this servant suffers at the hands of torturers. You can find the whole story in Matthew 18: 21-35.

I find a couple of interesting points from this modern day story of a forgiven debt. Let me make a few observations:

  1. This is a story about forgiveness. However, I find it interesting how they define forgiveness by the very nature of this story. According to them forgiveness is just about closing the matter, writing it off, getting it out of the way. I don’t know the end of this story but my guess is that reconciliation will not be pursued. This is more about getting this out of the way so they can move on. The relationship with their customer is not the primary reason for granting forgiveness. They are doing this for the good of their company. Yes, it looks very generous (and I agree that it actually is) but is this how we live out forgiveness? Is it just about what is good for me or am I really looking out for the interest of others (Phil. 2:4)? Am I forgiving as Christ did? Sacrificially? Graciously? Lovingly? Completely?
  2. Despite the fact that forgiveness isn’t defined completely, what the company did was still very gracious. This man owed a debt presumably greater than he could pay and definitely not without some sacrifice. Although his son racked up the money he was still responsible. It was his name on the bill and not his son’s. The debt was his and his alone. Think about your sin. Your sin isn’t your parents’ and it’s not your spouse’s and it’s not your neighbors–it is YOURS. You alone are responsible for your sin and it’s a much greater debt that you can ever pay. $18,000 seems like a few pennies compared to the sin debt that we have accrued. Yet Jesus made the sacrifice to grant us forgiveness–complete and beautiful forgiveness that we should be in awe of everyday. Praise God that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26b) so that we could be forgiven. There is no credit report to deal with our debt; it has been forgiven– not by money that wastes away but by the powerful and expensive blood of Christ!
  3. The last thing I want to point out is the dad’s response. This has been a headache for him and something that he has fought for. He states, “Nice to see Verizon dismiss all the charges. But it’s still on my credit report. Someone has to take the next step.” Is that my response when I’ve been forgiven? “Oh, nice to see you forgave me, but there is still something lacking. What are you going to do about it?” In my opinion the focus is on wanting more. The dad isn’t satisfied with the $18,000 dismissed bill but he demands more. Can’t we be that way with forgiveness? We can forgive someone but then still be bitter, still demanding that they pay for their sin. This can be accomplished through manipulation, bitterness, giving the cold shoulder, withholding love, gossiping, etc. This is not forgiveness. This is unforgiveness. When you choose to forgive someone (and yes it is a choice) you are choosing to release them from any repayment. Remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:
    • I will not dwell on this incident
    • I will not bring this incident up and use it against you
    • I will not talk to others about this incident
    • I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship

These promises are put in place so that we will resist the urge to demand more repayment after we have already chosen to forgive someone. Forgiving someone is not just about a couple of words but it is about an oath that you hold yourself accountable to. It’s about releasing someone from their debt and releasing them every day. The company could grant the dad forgiveness, but what if they brought it up on every bill “Remember…we forgave you of this debt. Don’t mess up again.” Or they could be rude to him if he ever has to call customer service or they could cut off his phone or reduce his plan or ignore him if he comes into the store. That would seem ridiculous for them to behave that way, but isn’t that the way we act sometimes. Are we really forgiving people or are we just going through the motions?

So take a lesson from a corporate company and a Massachusetts man and don’t let forgiveness be just a meaningless word for you.

Don’t forget to register for our 2010 Peacemaker Conference,  which is all about forgiveness (prices increase on June 1).

Lawsuits in the Church

I am pleased to note that I am now an “editorial advisor” to Christianity Today’s  YourChurchBlog.com team, and will periodically be contributing materials that relate to risk management and peacemaking and how they relate to the church today.

My first article there, Lawsuits in the Church, tackles an issue that’s been near to my heart for many years. I encourage you to read the whole article, but in particular, be sure to read the six practical steps I give for protecting your church.

Here’s a snippet that shows why I think this topic is so important:

I have found very few churches that are providing systematic, biblical teaching on conflict resolution. Therefore, when disputes arise, Christians are often just as willing to file a lawsuit as are their unsaved neighbors. Worse yet, church leaders are all too willing to violate 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, as they also go to court to solve problems within the church.

I have personally witnessed these failures time after time. For example, when one church refused to pay its pastor extra compensation for the work he did to remodel his own study, he sued his church. Another pastor, who did not get a promotion he wanted, sued his denomination for age discrimination. A missionary couple who found life in the field to be too stressful not only abandoned their mission, but also sued their denomination for failing to prepare them properly for the mission field. In another case, the trustees of a church brought a lawsuit against their own elders because of a disagreement over church government.

In my opinion, the church’s failure to educate its people on biblical conflict resolution has significantly contributed to the flood of lawsuits in this country. This failure has also left the church fully exposed to being sued by its own members. Lawsuits that would have been unthinkable a decade ago are now commonplace, as church members sue their own congregations for alleged breaches of confidentiality, for failing to prevent suicides, for discharging ineffective employees, or for exercising church discipline.

But there is an even higher price we pay for our failure to equip church members to respond to conflict biblically. Even when disputes among Christians do not result in a lawsuit, they often create divisions within a church, undermine vital ministries, and drain energy from our labors for Christ.

In summary, we are not presenting the world with the kind of love and unity that demonstrates the reality of a loving Father and resurrected Savior (see John 13:34-35; 17:20-23). We are allowing unresolved conflict to rob us of our testimony, thereby giving the world yet another reason to blaspheme God and mock His church (see Romans 2:24).

Free Live Webinar w/ Chris Brauns on May 25th

Chris Brauns will be doing a free live webinar on May 25th!

Chris Brauns, a keynote speaker  for our 2010 Peacemaker Conference and pastor of The Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, IL will be doing a live webinar on Tuesday, May 25th starting at 9:00am Mountain Time. Chris is visiting our staff as part of our staff retreat, and  it is our privilege to have him available for a webinar.

Chris will be taking the audience through a “forgiveness quiz” and will expound upon some common misconceptions about forgiveness. This thought-provoking webinar will help you dig deeper on the topic of forgiveness (and help you prepare for the 2010 Peacemaker Conference on forgiveness).

 This webinar will be the first in a series of webinars as we prepare for the conference in September. Watch this blog and your email for details on all of the upcoming webinars featuring insightful  speakers who will also be teaching at the conference. This is a great opportunity to gain more wisdom on this crucial topic.

 Please join us for this free webinar. All you have to do is log on from your own computer. You will be able to ask questions and interact with Chris and the material from the comfort of your own monitor. We look forward to having you join us.

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:


Title:   Chris Brauns – Forgiveness Quiz
Date:   Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Time:   9:00 AM – 10:00 AM MDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.


System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000
Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

 Questions? Please contact Kerri Goss, Annual Conference Manager at kgoss@peacemaker.net or 406-256-1583 x.120

Are Bitterness and Unforgiveness the Same Thing?

I was asked recently whether bitterness and unforgiveness were, in essence, the same thing.

It’s a good question, and here’s where I come down:  Although they are closely connected, I don’t think they are the same thing.

Unforgiveness is a choice to withhold forgiveness. This choice is often driven by or overflows as bitterness, but unforgiveness can aggravate or trigger other sinful and negative emotions and actions as well, such as anger, hatred, revenge, slander, etc.

In most biblical texts, bitterness is typically associated with grief, disappointment, hate and anger. It often conveys the spite that harbors resentment and keeps a score of wrongs.

In its most common NT usage, bitterness can be likened to a man who has been stabbed by a knife (i.e, wronged by another person), who then pulls the knife out and stabs himself with it over and over. In other words, bitterness is often triggered by an initial wrong or disappointment that we refuse to forgive and then keep reliving and re-experiencing over and over.

To put it more simply, bitterness is a punishment we inflict on ourselves when we refuse to forgive another person for an actual or perceived wrong. So they are closely connected, but not actually the same.

(By the way, if you are interested in digging further into the topic of forgiveness, I encourage you to join us this fall for our Peacemaker Conference, with a theme that’s simply “Forgiveness”.)

Apologizing When Hurts Are Unintentional

A friend recently asked me, “I know that it’s right to apologize even when the hurt came from an innocent mistake. But is it a violation of the ‘7 A’s’ to indicate in your apology that no intention was there? (e.g., “I’m sorry to have hurt you in that way, but I want you to know that this was not my intention at all.”)

This is how I answered him:

This is a delicate question, for several reasons.

First, let’s avoid fabricating a rigid list of rules (“never use ‘but’ in a confession”); we don’t need peacemaking Pharisees! Nor do I ever want to imply that Peacemaker Ministries is the authority on this; only God’s Word is authoritative.

Second, our sinful nature is always looking for a way to conceal or minimize culpability for our wrongs. One way this plays out is for us to rationalize or excuse hurtful conduct by saying, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” For example, my kids will often try to justify hurtful conduct by saying, “I wasn’t trying to hurt her.” I respond by saying, “Well, you’re weren’t trying very hard not to hurt her were you? Does that fulfill God’s command to treat others as you want to be treated?”

Third, there are people out there who are so hyper-sensitive that they will manufacture hurt out of entirely innocent comments or actions by others. If possible, it would be good for us to help them see this problem so they can find freedom from it.

With these thoughts in mind, I would urge a person to go through this kind of self-analysis when faced with this situation:

  • Did I say or do something that I actual realized or knew would hurt someone? If so, I should admit that frankly.
  • Did I say or do something that I could have reasonably foreseen would hurt someone? To put it another way, was I thoughtless or careless? (see Matt. 12:36: ” But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken;”  or Matt. 7:12: “do unto others …”) If so, I could say something like this: “I’m sorry that my comment in the committee meeting hurt you. I was not deliberately trying to embarrass you, but I can now see that I was careless in my choice of words. I deeply regret putting you in such an awkward situation.” This wording is actually using “but” in a better way, where it minimizes or cancels the “excuse” (“I was not deliberately trying to embarrass you”) and points to or emphasizes the apology: “I was careless.”
  • Was I truly innocent even of carelessness and am I dealing with someone who is hypersensitive and manufacturing an offense out of thin air? If so, then I need to pray for wisdom and grace on whether to and how to lovingly help them to see their bondage and the effect it is having on their relationship with other people. This will not be done in a single sentence but will usually require an extended conversation that is carefully planned and graciously pursued.

I’ve found that the middle solution (admitting I was careless) is the best solution to the vast majority of these situations (although our sinful pride often makes it difficult for us to use it). If the confession is offered gently and sincerely, most people will respond graciously, and many will even come to your defense, saying they realize you intended no harm.