“Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life too often has been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to defenseless peoples.”
– Howard Thurman
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
– Corrie ten Boom
Jesus was oppressed, persecuted and betrayed by the religious leaders of his day – those who said they represented the very God who stood in front of them. Corrie ten Boom was imprisoned, tortured and nearly starved to death by an evil empire ruled by a hate-filled despot. What’s the difference?
Who is more difficult to forgive:
• Those who have served God alongside of you for many years who then disrespect, betray and shun you? These would be fellow Christians who have been your spiritual leaders, your friends, people who you’ve shared meals with, traveled together, taught together and even looked up to. Pastors, family members, band mates and mentors.
• Evil people who you’d expect to act this way? Dictators, thieves, criminals and money-hungry bankers, mortgage lenders and politicians.
Does God allow us room to withhold forgiveness from those who have been our closest friends and spiritual leaders? Jesus certainly didn’t wait to forgive those who betrayed Him. He hung on that cross and asked the Father to forgive them, to refrain from judging them. Does He understand the depth of betrayal we feel from those who name His name? Of course He does. Jesus was also persecuted, tortured and put to death by an evil empire – those who did not name the name of God – and it didn’t make any difference to Him. He extended forgiveness to all.
I’ve talked to many people who’ve left churches for a variety of reasons – many of which are legitimate and understandable – who feel judged, shunned, “unfriended” and betrayed. In almost every case, they’ve found it very difficult to forgive and forget, to move away from the deeply held hurts and wounds, and to get a sense of freedom from the pain they feel.
I also know a lot of people who have been victims of crime, or treated unfairly by those who are not Christians, those who don’t necessarily follow the Golden Rule. Mostly, I’ve heard that it’s easier for them to move on from these violations, and to forgive those who have wronged them.
It seems that it’s a matter of expectations.
We expect fellow believers to walk in love. We expect pastors and Christian leaders to treat us fairly and to remain humble. We expect pastors to be faithful to their wives and families, and to resist pornography, adultery and other sinful behavior. We expect our brothers and sisters in the Lord to defend us when we are wronged, and to love us when we differ in theology or when we resist the latest wind of doctrine blowing through the Church.
On the other hand, we really don’t expect evil people to act righteously. When they steal from us or harm us in any way, we’re not surprised. Forgiveness seems easier to give because we fear for their souls, and we want them to know the Lord. We love them quickly because we desire for them to sense the love of God and come to Him. We can even see God’s hand in allowing their actions, because it gives us an opportunity to love the evildoer and shed God’s love into their hearts.
But judgement, mistreatment and arrogance from another Christian – especially a pastor? Boy, does that wound go deep! I’ve spent time with that wound, and can speak from painful experience. And I’m not alone. It’s very difficult to “forgive and forget” when we’ve been hurt by another Christian, and only the love of God, working in our hearts and minds, can free us and help us to extend that kind of forgiveness.
When we finally reach that precious milestone, though, it’s freedom. No longer are our minds bombarded with thoughts of “righteous anger.” No longer are we held captive by resentment. No longer do we hold God accountable for the actions of a few weak people. No longer can the devil use other people’s sin against us.
When we forgive – no matter what the offense has been, or who has carried it out – we’re free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
I’ve been a Christian all my life, and a committed one since 1974. Raised by Godly, Roman Catholic parents and educated in parochial schools, I’ve always had a sense of God’s love and always accepted that Jesus died for me, paying the price for my sins. I thank the IHM nuns and Jesuit priests for instilling that in me, even if by “forceful” means occasionally!
Since joining the ranks of evangelical, pentecostal, conservative Christianity, however, I’ve been immersed in a hypnotic state of “Christian culture” that I now see as a Grand Diversion from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christian leaders in the western world have by and large, through the centuries, embraced the ways of the world and used its methods to gain power, prestige, respect and financial security. Many prominent Christians – and you would know them if I named them – have looked to church and national politics as a pretense to influence the world for Jesus, while building constituencies, churches, denominations, legalistic doctrines and fortunes.
We need to be very careful here, because the Word of God says that “The love of money is the root of all evil.” That’s an incredible statement, isn’t it?
ALL Evil. All evil comes from the love of money. That’s heavy.
I take that to mean that if a person loves money – if gathering financial resources to himself is his chief concern – then evil has a foothold in his heart. But what if seeking money is one’s second aim in life, or third, fourth or even fifth?
Can you place your love for money in fifth place and say that it has no hold on you? I think not. No matter where that lust is placed, it is still lust. Lust after money, mammon, wealth and riches is still a stronghold that Satan uses to entice us away from God’s plan for our lives. And it’s one that divides Christians, often causing leaders to control people so that resources can continue to flow their way.
We’ve all seen it. Remember Jim and Tammy Bakker? Jim Bakker would be the first one to tell you that he used people and their money to build a kingdom here on earth. Then it collapsed and he went to prison for it. What a disgrace to the name of Jesus.
What kind of witness is that?
As Christians, our witness must be unassailable and without guile. When we build relationships with others, especially the unsaved, we must not have any ulterior motives other than to “love them as ourselves.”
If a minister, “prophet” or any Christian leader aims to add people to his business team so he can achieve “seven streams of revenue” to defeat the “spirit of poverty,” watch out!
Is that how Jesus acted? Is that how He wants us to act? I’m not saying we shouldn’t make a decent living and provide for our families – far from it. But was Jesus a capitalist?
And why do western Christians think we should “take a city for God” or a nation? Why are we always on a war footing, when the two commandments Jesus gave us are to love God with all of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls; and to love our neighbors as ourselves?
I’ve seen more passion for politics in the Body of Christ than I’ve seen for unreached people – by far. Whether the issue is abortion, Muslim domination of the world, single-payer health care or selections for the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s amazing how much energy, preaching, money and sheer spiritual force is directed at this stuff by Christians.
And none of it is ever going to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God anyway, so what the hell are we doing with what God has given us?
I can’t begin to tell you the number of emails I get on a regular basis, warning me of the imminent danger of Islam, or the evils of homosexuality or the depravity of abortion. “We must rise together to fight this menace!”
No – we must not. That is just so much smoke from arrogant people trying to build their base of power by uniting us against a common enemy, a favorite tactic of tyrants through the centuries. How about we stop passing these emails around and see if the world falls apart! That will prove that they do no good anyway – all they accomplish is to engender fear in the Body of Christ, and to create a sense in us that other human beings – like Muslims and homosexuals – are evil and worthy of our hatred, not our love.
If we think that our weapons are carnal, worldly and of this earthly realm, we are sadly mistaken. There is no way we will ever stop abortion until people’s hearts are changed and they just don’t want to get an abortion because it’s evil. There’s no way we will ever ensure justice by fighting for “conservative” judges on the Supreme Court. There is no way that we will stop the spread of Islam until we show people a better way. And we will never see homosexuals gracing the doors of our churches until we begin to love them.
That means we must stop alienating them and acting like we’re better than they are. Have we forgotten that Jesus died for us too? Yeah, while we were dead in our sins.
So what makes us any different than Chuck and Stephen who live together a few doors down the street – as lovers? In fact, now that we’ve been forgiven, we have a mandate to love them, not judge them.
How do we win the Muslim world – or even one Muslim – for Jesus Christ?
Not by bombing nuclear facilities in Iran!! Yet that’s what many American Christians propose today, in order to protect Israel. That’s the justification.
Since when did a temporal, worldly goal supersede a Godly, eternal one?
Do we think that by killing people we will win them for Christ? Are we crazy? We have got to think about these things and reorient ourselves to what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Is it about being a Republican or Democrat? Are Republicans good and Democrats evil? Why?
C’mon, you know this is how most of us feel or have been told to believe. How many times from the pulpit have we heard: “I can’t legally tell you who to vote for, but remember to vote for the platform that’s closer to what we believe.” Wink-wink. What? What kind of Godly instruction is that?
Why should we align ourselves with any worldly system?
Take a good look at yourself and ask yourself this: Am I a follower of Jesus or of conservative principles?
Look, all I’m trying to do here is get us all to think differently than what we’ve been trained to do as good, submissive Christian followers for our entire born-again lives. Yes, we should follow humble men and women of God into spiritual battle, and for eternal purposes.
But the day is coming when Christians around the world will unite in a spirit of sacrificial love to reach those who have never heard the Gospel. There are still two billion people on this planet that need to hear the Good News for the very first time. How do we justify spending most of our time “fellowshipping” when people are dying and going to Hell? Are we sipping spiritual cocktails while millions are drowning all around us?
How do we justify NOT going to the hard places in the world, to places no evangelist has gone before? What exempts us from that Call?
Nothing but our spiritual laziness and fear. And it’s sin. It’s so much sin.
“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
ASLEEP IN THE LIGHT by Keith Green
CHAPTER 5 (read the whole story here)
Chris Blake’s cell phone rang. It was David Ling, who had returned to his office at the new U.S. Embassy on a 10-acre site just outside Beijing’s third-ring road. He actually liked the old embassy better – near the street markets – because the neighborhood was full of winding streets covered in over-arching canopies of trees, and filled with tourists trying to find a bargain. Of course, there were also the ubiquitous DVD and CD hawkers, whose life’s mission was to get a bootleg movie into your hands at all costs. Maybe the clean, new embassy was a bit easier to take after all.
“Mr. Blake?” David had news about Li Ying, and it was disturbing. “I’ve got some information about the baby – Li Ying. She was taken to an orphanage in Tianjin, where the doctors are evaluating her and deciding exactly what to do with her.”
“But, why?” Chris responded. “She was abandoned, and nobody wanted her. Wu Ming saved her life, and the PSB came in and just took her away. Can they do that?”
There was a pause before David answered. “Someone in Liping Village reported there was a baby in my uncle’s home, and apparently they thought she didn’t belong there. It’s amazing they didn’t arrest my aunt and uncle, or search their home more thoroughly. If they had, they might have discovered Brother Wu, too, and thrown him back in prison. At least the Tianjin Orphanage is one of the best in China. The Director and staff really care about their kids, and will make sure that Li Ying gets into a good home. Maybe it’s for the best – she’s in good hands.”
“I’m with Wu now,” Chris said. “We’ve left Liping, and we’re going on a short trip. I’m taking some extra days off from the airline so I can help him with something he has to do. I want to thank you for taking me to Liping and introducing me to your family there. God has sure opened my eyes about life here, and I’m excited to see what will happen on this trip with Wu Ming.”
“Mr. Blake, it’s been my pleasure to spend time with you, and also gain new understanding about your culture,” David said. “Frankly, I’ve never known an African-American before, and you’ve shattered some of my misconceptions as well. Your kind heart and willingness to share the grief of my family truly reflected the love of Jesus, and I appreciate that. I think Li Ying has brought us all together, and she’s going to be OK now.”
“I’ll try to touch base with you before I leave China, but for now, will you pray for us as we go?” Chris asked. “I have a feeling that I’m in for quite an adventure with Wu. Bye for now.”
“What kind of seats did we get?” Chris asked. “I hope it’s not hard seat, because I’ve heard that’s pretty rough.”
“C’mon, now Chris – it’s only a nine-hour ride to Zhengzhou, then we transfer over for the short ride to Kaifeng,” Wu said. “You can handle hard seat, right? Don’t worry – since we’re leaving so late tonight, I got hard sleeper, so we’ll at least be able to lie down. After changing trains in the morning, we’ll get into Kaifeng about 9:00 a.m.”
Chris was reassured as he and Brother Wu slowly squeezed through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the station platform. He lifted his dark leather bag onto the steaming, idling train as he placed his left foot on the metal step of the old green car and lifted himself into a new world. What was he going to find in Kaifeng?