Be Kind, Hard Battles Are Being Fought

I recently came across this quote below. Though it is not absolutely clear who penned (or spoke) these words, most attribute the line to Plato.

‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’

This is one of the more powerful one-sentence statements that I have read in quite a while. It has really gripped my heart, leaving me to ponder it quite a lot.

You know, whenever I see people that are different from me or don’t approach life as I do, or even more, they are outright obnoxious, it’s easy to judge them. A week or so ago, some varying families that we know got together. Our connection was that we all have very small children and the mom’s have been involved in coffee mornings with the children playing together.

The time was actually quite nice. But one thing that stuck with me was that one person present did not seem to have a filter on their mouth (meaning they were willing to blurt out just about anything). I was quite judgmental as I thought about this person. And while having a filter of wisdom in which we watch our words (i.e. what we read about in Proverbs) is a very good thing, later on these words quoted above came to the forefront of my mind. Continue reading

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Forgiving Those Who Have Hurt Us

A couple of days ago, I posted an article on dealing with the hurt caused to us by other people. Needless to say, the article brought some good interaction via the comment section here, on Facebook, and on Theologica (an online network for theological discussion).

I think the major interaction, and disagreement, revolved around these words of mine:

I believe that, if someone never asks for forgiveness, then there is no responsibility set upon us to forgive. You cannot forgive one who never asks for forgiveness.

Many of the responses that have come have challenged such a notion. I have been reminded that the call to forgive is unconditional, rather than being based upon whether or not the person asks forgiveness.

As I’ve pondered the responses, my mind has gone in a few different directions. The first has been to forgive everyone for disagreeing with me, even if they have not asked for such forgiveness. 🙂

Ok, not really. Continue reading

Dealing with Hurt from Other People

One of the most difficult things to deal with as a Christian, or as human beings in general, is that of the hurt that others inflict upon us. There might be nothing like it. The reason such becomes so difficult is that, normally, our emotions and the deepest parts of us get involved. That’s because relationships run deeper than the surface. And, thus, the deeper the relationship, the deeper it hurts when others wound us.

And you know what? There is no prescribed formula to help us deal with it. There are some principles to consider, but you can’t just give 3 or 4 keys as a band-aid (or plaster for my British friends) and everything will just be better. Pain is painful. Hurt is hurtful. There is simply no denying it. And many times it doesn’t disappear when we wave our magic wands.

Of course, we can push it aside, not think about it, not deal with it, and deaden ourselves to the pain. Or we can cover the pain with all sorts of other things – when it arises, we can head to the television to attempt to drown out the hurt or pick up some ice cream and eat half of the tub (or the whole tub). Or we could engage in graver things as well. But anything so we don’t have to deal with the hurt. Continue reading

Orthodoxy & Orthopraxy

This article comes out of some thoughts I shared in a recent review of Eugene Peterson’s book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, as well as some thoughts that I have been pondering for the past few months. It has to somewhat do with the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

What do these two odd words mean?

Orthodoxy traditionally points to right, or correct, doctrine. To say a person or group is orthodox, one is generally referring to the acceptance of biblical teaching on major-essential topics as understood by the historical church (i.e. Christ’s divinity-humanity, God as Triune, etc).

Orthopraxy, then, points to right, or correct, living.

I was quite interested in a question which I read somewhere (probably a blog) a few weeks ago. I re-frame the question here, but you should get the point – What is more problematic? Heresy of doctrine of heresy of living?

I don’t suppose that many Christians will deny that both are problematic, even dangerous. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are really two sides to the same coin. You can discuss them separately, but you cannot ultimately pull them apart. They are interconnected.

Now, what I have found in my own life, and I would also say I sense this has been true in some parts of western evangelicalism, is that we confess with our lips that both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important, but if push came to shove, orthodoxy tops orthopraxy in importance.

Of course, one could argue that right belief will produce right living. And I understand this and have argued it as well. But I also realise that, practically, it depends on how you approach the topic of orthodoxy.

Though I believe in the doctrine of the incarnation, and I would even espouse the detailed teaching of something like the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, I am not sure it would much affect my walk if I had never heard of or confessed my belief in the hypostatic union.

Please don’t misunderstand me or get me wrong. I believe that doctrine is important, for the biblical revelation makes it clear it is important. And I do believe the doctrine of the incarnation and all its implications become a very important and essential belief for Christians. We have a Christ-centred faith and here is a doctrine directly addressing our Christ-centred faith. And I also believe that our understanding of the incarnation has very important ramifications on understanding the nature of God, salvation and even ecclesiology (our understanding of the church). But sometimes those intricate details don’t get played out in our lives.

Also, note that, in its simplest form, the word orthodoxy could really point to right worship (ortho – right, correct; doxo – honour, worship). I understand that, to have right worship, we must have right belief about who we are worshiping. But we can easily take this way too far. I also believe that we can see much more how orthodoxy as right worship affects orthopraxy as right living, especially if we note our whole lives are to be an offering of honour and worship to our Father.

And, so, as I noted above, I do believe the epidemic in my own life, and in some corners of the western world, has been that, though we identify both terms as being important, we have tended to allow one to take precedence (orthodoxy, or right doctrine) over the other (orthopraxy, right living).

Thus, it can be easy look favorably upon a person or church that lays out what might be identified as solid evangelical doctrine about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, water baptism, heaven, hell, and a few other things, even though there might be a large lack in practical living of compassion, justice, serving the disadvantaged, reaching the poor, washing feet (metaphorically), etc. But if one is doing the latter, like a Mother Teresa, but that person holds to a somewhat confused understanding of justification, well, that person can easily be put under the spotlight of questioning.

You see, I recognise this as an indictment upon the whole of my own life as a follower of Christ for just over 14 years.

Listen, I am not heading down some path that says all go to heaven regardless, as long as we are decent people. Nor am I abandoning the reality that right doctrine, or right worship, is unimportant. I teach and shepherd a congregation in healthy doctrine on a regular basis. I desire to see the Bible’s teaching get into the blood of those I walk with on a daily basis.

But do you see my concern?

Remember, this concern has arisen in my own life in recent months.

And, lo and behold, though possibly to the disdain of some, I have at times sensed the call of Jesus to lay aside my ‘orthodoxy’ so that I can actually live out what he is asking of me. I imagine that this is what was taking place as a sheet lowered before Peter with a bunch of unclean animals in Acts 10.

I realise that Jesus sometimes calls us beyond what we believe is beneficial to following him. And I should have expected such knowing he engaged in this on a regular basis as he walked the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Here was the good shepherd (or ‘pastor’) eating with prostitutes. Here was one breaking the norm of Sabbath understanding to heal. Here was God-in-the-flesh telling us that mercy and compassion are more important than tithing one’s herbs and spices. And don’t forget sheets with unclean animals, which really pointed to crossing the Gentile-barrier in mission.

I also share a personal testimony. I recognise not everyone will agree with it. But it is my journey and hearing other people’s stories can help.

I am beginning to realise more and more that I have never sensed the displeasure of our Father because I did not hold to the full biblical view of a particular doctrine. The greatest time I sense the Father’s displeasure is when it comes to not walking out what He has asked of me, not living as Christ calls us to live.

Also, most who read my blog should be aware that I believe God still communicates-speaks-reveals today. Whenever I have known God’s more direct leading-speaking to me, I have never once heard Him challenge me to change a particular doctrinal view. This specific change comes in my life through normal, regular study of Scripture and other relevant writings (though I believe God definitely is in this and providentially changing my doctrinal mindset). But when God speaks to me, it is about obeying Him, walking out what He asks, living as He asks.

It is this reality that has been extremely impacting in my life as of recent. One might disagree with acknowledging this, believing it to be dangerous. But such is the life reality of where God has me at the moment. And it is doing something deep in my heart, though I can easily resist.

In all, I do believe both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important. I believe this very much. They are interconnected parts, two sides to the same coin. Still, as I have stated elsewhere previously, I suppose that at the end of my life I will not have wished that I had read one more book or understood one more theological term. I will have wished I had better walked out the call of Christ, which was not firstly that I have top-notch theology, but rather that I follow him and serve and love others well.

And so, as I approach orthodoxy (both right doctrine and right worship), I want it to ultimately impact my orthopraxy. I think we can all agree to that statement. But I believe this to be true as well – I can learn to walk out a life of obedience to Christ even if my doctrine is lacking in a few (or very many) areas. And I can only imagine the call for this is a reality today knowing my lack of doctrinal precision.

Dealing With Hurt From Others

One of the most difficult things to deal with as a Christian, or as human beings in general, is that of the hurt that others inflict upon us. There might be nothing like it. The reason such becomes so difficult is that, normally, our emotions and the deepest parts of us get involved. That’s because relationships run deeper than the surface. And, thus, the deeper the relationship, the deeper it hurts when others wound us.

And you know what? There is no prescribed formula to help us deal with it. There are some principles to consider, but you can’t just give 3 or 4 keys as a band-aid (or plaster for my British friends) and everything will just be better. Pain is painful. Hurt is hurtful. There is simply no denying it. And many times it doesn’t disappear when we wave our magic wands.

Of course, we can push it aside, not think about it, not deal with it, and deaden ourselves to the pain. Or we can cover the pain with all sorts of other things – when it arises, we can head to the television to attempt to drown out the hurt or pick up some ice cream and eat half of the tub (or the whole tub). Or we could engage in graver things as well. But anything so we don’t have to deal with the hurt.

I suppose that is why something like divorce can hurt so very badly. I have not and do not plan on experiencing such, but I can at least imagine that for those who break apart the marriage covenant relationship, it is most painful for two people who are intertwined so closely, closer than in any other relationship.

And, so, when we are hurt (not just in divorce, but in any friendship-relationship across the body of Christ), we easily want to respond with any amount of negative emotions: sadness, depression, anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, fury, and a whole host of others. It hurts that bad and we want to react to the situation. And the thing is, the person who hurt us might be getting on with their life just fine with no knowledge of our pain. But we are still deeply stuck with the agony of the wound.

In my young life, one of the things that I have learned with regards to this area, and which keeps me in a place of wanting to let go of such bitterness, is remembering that I have done and continue to do the same to others. I’m probably better than most. How many times have I dumped on someone else – wife, son, family, friends, those in the body of Christ? The number is countless. And I can only hope that those whom I have hurt in my almost 31 years of life will remember these words that I want to learn to embrace more and more: [love] keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).

Goodness, it is easy to keep a record of wrongs. So easy because it hurts so bad.

I am very aware that, for the one pursuing Christ, we are not called to allow bitterness or rage or anger or depression dominate. And I believe that we can walk out such a calling due to the new disposition that we have as new creations in Christ. He has done a radical work within.

But as those who still have the flesh, who still live in a fallen world, who are still tempted with sin, we will walk down those paths and let such emotions have their way at times. And so I remain eternally grateful for mercy as gigantic as the mercy of our Father.

So the first thing I have to remember is that I have hurt people just as much, if not more, than those who have hurt me. I need your grace just as much as I think you need my grace.

Still, there is another great issue to consider when learning to deal with people who have hurt us: How do we forgive these people? I mean, we do read passages like this:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 2:12-13)

Pretty challenging words – as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Extremely challenging words.

But here is where the hang-up comes. What if someone never asks for forgiveness? Are we, then, supposed to forgive?

That’s a tough one, one that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. And I would love for you share any thoughts that you might have. But let me share some things that I do believe are worth remembering.

The first is that you can only forgive those who ask your forgiveness. When someone asks forgiveness for how they have wronged us, if it is with true remorse and repentance, then it now becomes our responsibility to forgive. It’s now on us, not them. And to forgive them will call for just as much a work of God’s grace and mercy in our lives as it does in the person that has come to the place of wanting to ask forgiveness. We all know that, if the wound is deep enough, it will be hard for us to forgive. Simply saying the words, I forgive you, is a start. But we still have to walk out the forgiveness on a daily basis. But the door has been opened to forgiveness and reconciliation.

But that’s not always the case. Again, sometimes the person never asks to be forgiven. And here is what I have learned in my young life.

I believe that, if someone never asks for forgiveness, then there is no responsibility set upon us to forgive. You cannot forgive one who never asks for forgiveness. Yet, take note of this. I don’t believe that allows us to keep the door of bitterness or anger or rage open. Why? When someone has wronged us and has not asked for forgiveness, I believe our responsibility then becomes to learn to let it go and release that person in Jesus’ name to get on with their life as we get on with our life in God.

By no means am I saying it is easy. None of this stuff is easy. But we must move towards letting the other go, releasing them from the grip of deep-rooted bitterness. If we don’t, even if we never see them again, we will suffer our own pain of not releasing them. The wound will continue to fester and grow putrid. And the release in our lives will only come when we finally step into the liberating grace of Jesus to allows us to let them go.

And as we let them go, the responsibility can now fully rest with God to deal with it, as we are reminded in Romans 12:19:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.

But the thing is that, once we are liberated and release the person, we are not sitting around wondering if God has dealt with it. We are released ourselves and free from being emotionally entangled with the person or persons who have hurt us. And we get on with walking out what God has for us today.

To see full release come, it probably won’t do much go to say a little half-hearted prayer and get back to our favourite tv programme. It might call for deep mourning (Matthew 5:4) and maybe even some time away to deal with it. Time to reflect and refresh. And I actually mean praying in Jesus’ name about these things, since He is the one who can break deep-rooted strongholds.

Listen, I can only again reiterate that I do understand the difficulty of both forgiving those who have hurt us who asked our forgiveness and then letting go of those who have wounded us but never asked forgiveness from us. Both of these are extremely complex situations that simply take time. And we must know that we can only really deal with them by a work of God’s Spirit and God’s Spirit alone. This has nothing to do with pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and getting on with life. This must be a deep work of the grace of Christ.

But, as sons and daughters of the King, this is what we are called to.

And can you imagine the bride of Christ learning to forgive and release those who hurt us? Can you imagine the effect this would have on planet earth? Can imagine the resounding effect of the grace of Jesus that would be left ringing in the ears of humanity?

Ok, probably too big a vision for right now and dealing with the deep, personal wounds and scars of today. In the pain, we just want to work through it and move to the place of mercy that God has called us. So let’s move towards that, and we will live the bigger effect up to God Himself. This is His ultimately.

Help us move in this direction, Father. Help us today.