Original photo by article writer, seen here in my full portfolio.
Living Out Forgiveness
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people discredit Christian leaders for their past mistakes. And I mean, Christians discrediting other Christians. The point that's often missing is that we live in a broken world, and a broken world produces broken people. In other words, no one has ever gone through life without causing damage. And the level of that damage never actually relates to the level of a person’s self defense. In other words, people often go on claiming, or even believing that there’s always someone else who’s damaged the world more than they have. But the truth is, a few simple words can do as much damage as a few simple bullets. I know, because I’ve personally seen words end lives. This is why the New Testament groups those who use ugly words (murmurers), right there with those who kill.
"For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell." - James 3:2-6 (NKJV)
"These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19 These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit." - - Jude 1:16-19 (KJV)
But there’s good news too, Jesus also made forgiveness a very clear command:
"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." - Matthew 18:21-22 (KJV)
"Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." - Matthew 6:11-15 (KJV)
Who needs this?
Who needs to know this stuff? Simple answer: everyone, especially Christians and especially Christian leaders. The way we treat others in the church can actually lead as far as life or death.
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." - Proverbs 18:21 (KJV)
I not only survived suicide myself, but I’ve lost three people to it (hear my podcast on it here). I’ve also talked a handful of people out of it. That’s one of the many ways I've seen words kill. And like other ways I’ve tested the Bible and Christian faith, it’s one of the many ways I’ve proven the word of God to be true to everyday life. I can tell you with 100% certainty, everyone in our church needs it to be a sanctuary. Everyone in our universal and local churches needs a place where, no matter what experiences they have outside the church, inside the church they need to know love, compassion, empathy, sympathy and support (spiritual, emotional, social, financial, etc). That needs to happen as close to 100% of the time as possible.
When that kind of dynamic is missing, Christ’s reputation is damaged. Not only does that help give Christianity a bad name, it ejects people from the local church. It even kills faith that hasn’t grown enough and crucifies our savior again and again.
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame." - Hebrews 6:4-6 (NKJV)
How deep it goes
You can often see the wounds and scars left by a weapon, an accident, a surgery or any other physical damage. It’s much harder to see the wounds and scars left by words, vengeance, pride or the friend of the world game (cliques).
"...know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." - James 4:4 (KJV)
Therefore it’s sometimes hard to see when people are doing such damage in the church, especially when they’re trying to hide it. It’s also much more comfortable to let it slide without standing up against it. So then how do we uplift our church and hold it above such behavior? Like any other life that grows correctly, you start by supporting the core.
"...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." - Ephesians 5:25-27 (KJV)
Bighorn Stars, found in Shawn Keenan's personal photography portfolio.
The support I spoke about earlier, it’s key to uplifting the church and building that core. Having a formal education and experience in Early Childhood and family psychology, I can tell you it takes at least a small system of people to maintain a harmful dynamic. That system includes those who go against the behavior Jesus taught us, those who enable it by never taking action and those who don’t know it’s happening. The more people who learn to act like Christ, the more they’ll recognize those who don’t. The more support the church feels, the more those within it will uplift and preserve it.
Here’s the interesting part, and one that gives us an opportunity to learn more Christ-like movement. You don’t go for hurt and damage, the kind of vengeance we’re warned againast.
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord." - Romans 12:19 (NKJV)
Trying to harm others and cancel them is the worldly approach and quite honestly, it’s reserved only for those who don’t understand the gospels. Jesus didn’t do it that way. Jesus made immense sacrifices so that everyone would have a chance to grow out of those things.
A Christian’s course of action is well defined by Christ; we are to aid the system our Heavenly Father built. It starts with love, compassion and a lack of judgement for those who offend. It continues with prayer that is strengthened by a Christian lifestyle. The more sins you remove from your life, the stronger your prayers. You pray for your church to be uplifted, for poor behavior to be weakened and good behavior to be strengthened. You pray for the awakening of those who do the damage. You pray for God to guide your steps while uplifting the church and make sure you’re helping, but not going against the teachings of Christ.
Go to those who commit the offenses. Tell them how you and others are being affected. You may not always get the reaction you want, but hiding how you feel and not trying to help someone understand is not what Jesus would do. If you have to, approach church leadership with information about the offenses.
If you see anyone being damaged by poor behavior in the church, talk to them about their issues. You don't need to gossip about the offender, but rather, reenforce the positives and help plan out how to openly and honestly deal with the harm. Openly and verbally express empathy/sympathy for the damaged person's situation. Openly and verbally appreciate the positive things you see in that person. Always make sure they know they have support in the church, at least from you.
I do not use stock photography. Find this image in my personal photo portfolio.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." - Romans 12:21 (NKJV)
Don’t waste time in this. Remember how critical this is, especially for those who need Christ-like support in developing early faith. God presents us with constant and consistent moments to nurture growth within ourselves and our church. Each moment is a gift, an opportunity to help people move out of the wrong paths and into the path of Jesus Christ. The best way to respect each of those gifts is to use each one of them, putting aside our own uncertainty to help others build their faith. It's within those moments and moments of prayer and standing against worldly behavior and judgment, we find our truest selves and the light we are given to show God's glory.
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." - Jesus the Christ - Matthew 5:14 (NKJV)
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