I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.
But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.
We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?
- Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
- Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
- Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
- Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.
You ever feel like you do the right thing, and yet bad things happen anyway?! It’s like “Karma” got drunk and punished the wrong person. No good deed goes unpunished – that was a phrase I heard growing up from other adults expressing this exact frustration.
The Apostle Paul had to know that feeling too. In Acts 16 we see this remarkable event where he and Silas were preaching the message of hope in Jesus, even performing an exorcism on a slave girl – in a city called Thyatira in modern day Turkey. For this, they were arrested, physically beaten, and thrown in jail. Well this sucks, would probably be my impulsive response to such circumstances. But what happened next was even more incredible:
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They worshipped God – after being beat up, and thrown in jail… hardly feels like the occasion to celebrate. And while it doesn’t give us a ton of detail, it tells us that they sang hymns – those are songs of worship addressing God directly. There wasn’t anything sarcastic or halfhearted about it.
It was after this, that God literally shook the prison open, freeing them from their cell – but they didn’t leave! I mean why bother? If God could open their prison and decide they could go, there’s hardly any need to rush. The prison guard (who woke up from the earthquake) saw all the doors open and assumed the prisoners fled, was about to take his life – knowing that a far greater punishment awaited him once his centurion supervisor discovered his failure. But upon finding Paul and Silas still there, he hits his knees and asks about their hope in Jesus. Now that is a miracle…
We don’t tend to celebrate or worship God in the middle of difficulty. It’s easier and far more convenient to wallow in self-pity, anger, guilt, and resentment. But when we find within ourselves the capacity to praise God through the pain, God literally opens doors and sets us free. And often times, the outcome is not only our own deliverance, but also that of someone who’s been silently watching us, just like the prison guard. Or your children. Or coworkers.
Praise God through the pain. Find the good to acknowledge. Trust in His sovereignty, that this will somehow work together for your good and His ultimate glory. You didn’t want a comfortable, boring life anyway. You wanted a life that mattered. And nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.” – Acts 2:41
Baptism is one of the greatest, simplest, and most meaningful expressions of our faith in Christ. I’ve had the privilege of being a part of many people’s story of coming to faith in Jesus over the years. It seems as if many people who make the initial step of deciding to follow Jesus, tend to immediately put on the brakes when it comes to the first easy demonstration of that decision: getting baptized.
The reasons I’ve heard for why people do not get baptized have ranged from:
- I got baptized as a baby.
- I’m embarrassed of being in front of people.
- I need to get some things straightened up in my life first.
- I’ll do it later.
- I don’t see why I have to.
The hard part, in my opinion, is deciding that you will give your life, whatever condition it may be in, to Jesus and receiving the life and salvation that He alone offers. The one thing that the Bible asks us to do upon making that internal decision, is to demonstrate it outwardly via getting baptized. Yet this is where many balk.
The irony to me, is that getting baptized is literally as easy as falling in water. If you’ve ever jumped into a pool, you can get baptized – minus the splash.
So allow me a minute to explain what water baptism is, and why you should get baptized.
- First of all, baptism is easy. It takes approximately 20 seconds to be baptized. At LifeCity, we don’t make you give an awkward speech. We simply ask you “Have you put your faith and confidence in Jesus Christ?” To which you only need to say yes, if you have. If you haven’t, or don’t understand what that even means, let’s talk about that first. The word in the Bible for “baptize” is the Greek word “baptizo” which literally means “to dip” or “immerse.” This is why at LifeCity we do not spray people for baptism or pour water over them. There is a Greek word for that, but it has nothing to do with Biblical water baptism. It’s important that we baptize this way, because…
- Secondly, baptism is a symbol. It does not “save” a person, wash away their sins, or send them to Heaven one day. It is a picture of a relationship that you already have. When a person stands in the water, gets dipped under the water, and then brought back up it is a symbol of Jesus living, dying and being buried (under the ground…), and then rising again from the grave. But it’s also a symbol of ourselves. Baptism says, “I once lived a life outside of Christ. That life is dead and has now been buried. And now I have a new life – a life in Christ!”
- Baptism is also a choice. Like the decision to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, no one can “make” you get Biblically baptized. At LifeCity, we do not baptize children under the age of 6, and many times not even then if the child doesn’t understand, is scared, or just not ready. If you were baptized as a young child or infant, and placed your faith in Jesus later, we encourage you to get baptized again on your choice. While we celebrate the fact that your family cared enough about your spirituality to baptize you early in life, it’s time that this expression of faith was taken on your terms, not simply your parent’s. We look at getting re-baptized as a fulfillment of what your parents wanted for you in the first place, not as a disrespect toward them. Besides… if you’ve genuinely made the decision to follow Jesus, this is a simple and easy thing that God is asking of you. Why put it off? We find that most people in this situation who are afraid of what their parents will think, are usually surprised to find that their family is mostly supportive of their decision.
- And finally, baptism is a celebration! This isn’t a somber, boring, religious exercise! It’s a symbol that we’ve been made right with God through Jesus!!! It’s a picture of a new life – an abundant life in Christ. We shout, clap, cheer, hoot, whistle, and generally celebrate what baptism means. People take pictures, video, give hugs, and invite friends and family to come out for the occasion.
We are having our first baptism service at LifeCity Church on Sunday, July 27th, at our 10:30am service! If you have questions about baptism, or want to get baptized on that day, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want a picture of what people getting baptized looks like, here’s a video that might bring it all together for you.
We have described our partnership commitments to LifeCity Church in three words:
We have been blessed by literally hundreds of people who have told us that they would “pray” for us as we prepare to launch this new church. We are overwhelmingly grateful that so many people have expressed their intentions to keep us before God as we move forward to plant a church. (more…)
Discipleship doesn’t happen overnight because it is a process.
As Christ-followers, and especially church leaders, all too often we get frustrated when people we want to see grow spiritually, don’t. Also people often get bogged down in their own spiritual life and feel “stuck” in a rut, not knowing what to do to move forward in their spiritual walk. And yet, there are still others who think they are spiritually mature based on how long they’ve been in church or how much Bible knowledge they hold.
But there is far more to it than that. I’ve created this graph and explained the stages in it below so that, as a follower of Jesus, you can answer three important questions:
- Where am I spiritually?
- What is my next step?
- How can I help others take their next step?
I’ve also lumped these stages into 4 categories: Pray, Serve, Teach, Lead. And each progressing category includes everything in the preceding category. To be clear, it’s not that we shouldn’t “Serve” people who are Hostile toward church or the Gospel, it’s just that we’re unlikely that we’ll be given a chance to. So here are the different Stages I’ve listed in the graph above. Each one includes a description of these people to help you identity them (or yourself), problems likely to face as we try to love them toward Christ, and an appropriate response toward them in light of all of that.
- Expresses anger toward God, church, or religion in general. Usually has a specific issue that serves as their “soapbox” against these things.
- Problems: Unreceptive toward any message. Outspoken against the church.
- Response: Do not fight. Give these people good, despite their hostile feelings and actions.
- Less anger, more just complaining. Still makes a big deal about specific issues, although likely to have a conversation about those issues.
- Problems: Argumentative. Likely to get to the point of not wanting to talk about it anymore.
- Response: Have conversations on their terms. Continue to maintain a non-defensive posture. Continue showing good, despite their aggravations. Agree with legitimate complaints without justifying dark places of “church history” (Inquisitions, etc.).
- Beginning to see the difference in our church. Speaks neither good nor bad. This person “tolerates” us.
- Problems: Easy to forget about this person.
- Response: Continue demonstrating grace. Talk about things the church is doing. Begin inviting to different opportunities. Expect a “no” response. Don’t act disappointed. Continue showing grace anyway.
- Still showing reservations about God, church, etc. Now asking questions.
- Problems: Many questions relate to things that don’t make sense to them, “well why do you guys ________?” This person is curious, but still somewhat skeptical.
- Response: Bless this person! Encourage their curiosity. Validate their process. Give context to the answers you give. Thanks them for coming if/when they show up for a service or small group. Help them make connections with others. Encourage them to return.
- It’s all starting to make sense to this person. They’ve decided that we’re not all crazy, and they are beginning to feel the Holy Spirit draw them, thought they probably wouldn’t know it as that.
- Problem: This person can resist the Holy Spirit and regress.
- Response: Give Gospel personally as well as in various “experiences”. Continue showing grace. Answer questions. Let them know you missed them if they skip a service/small group.
- This person just stepped across the line of faith! They have been reborn!
- Problems: Now the real work begins!
- Response: Celebrate! This is why we do what we do. Encourage them toward baptism, and strengthen connections they’ve made. Give some next steps/follow up to this person, as they are likely to have a “now what?” posture.
- This person is a baby Christian. They know little of the things of God, and require a lot of work.
- Problems: This is messy! You might as well expect it.
- Response: Use messes as teaching opportunities, and continue showing the same grace you did before they came to Christ. Feed this person’s insatiable appetite!
- Getting the hang of the basics. Also has an annoying habit of getting into trouble! This person should begin “feeding themselves.”
- Problems: They are going to test boundaries.
- Response: They need structure and grace. They’ll also want to do more “adult” things. Encourage this, by giving increasing opportunities.
- This person is not fully mature, but they are starting to contribute (i.e tithing, serving, etc.).
- Problems: Makes mistakes less often, has a risk of getting comfortable and complacent.
- Response: Continue to disciple. Cast vision to this person about making other disciples. Help them get to the place where they are “teaching others also.”
- This person has started to disciples others. We would consider this person spiritually “mature” regarding their conduct and understanding of spiritual things.
- Problems: Possibility of going “rogue”.
- Response: Keep connected to the vision of the church and leverage their maturity to lead others (small group leader, ministry leader, etc.).
- This person has discipled someone who has matured to the point of discipling others.
- Problems: Minimal. This person may get frustrated with others who have not matured to the point they have.
- Response: Consider this person for staff/Leadership Team. Encourage this person to continue making reproducing disciples.
Use this to grow in your spiritual life, and to help lead others to do the same.
Pastor John Markum
Last night I preached a message called “Blessing Blockers” as part of our last week in a series called The Blessed Life. We looked at five things that get in the way of us experiencing the powerful, grace-filled life that God wants each of us to experience. I thought I would share them with you as succinctly as possible:
- Faithlessness: “I have difficulty trusting God.” Hebrews 11:6, “For without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” God’s greatest desire is His glory, and my good. So I can trust Him.
- Inconsistent Walk: “I can’t seem to stay on track spiritually.” Rev. 3:16, “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out!” God loves me more than the awkwardness between us. So I can always come back to Him.
- Fear: “I am afraid of the possible outcomes of following God.” 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, courage, and of a sound mind.” There is no situation which God is not “God” over. So I don’t need to fear.
- Unconfessed Sin: “I hold onto a sin while trying to move forward.” Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Jesus died to take away my sin. So I don’t need to carry it anymore.
- Feeling unworthy: “I don’t think I’m good enough for God to bless me.” 1 Corinthians 1:30, “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” I am not worthy on my own. So God made me worthy through Christ.