Archives For October 2010

Hurt to Help

Jeff Olson —  October 29, 2010 — 21 Comments

As I was helping someone wrestle through the decision of whether or not to separate from a hard-hearted spouse, she came to a turning point when she realized that the only way her husband was going to get better was if she left. This was not at all how she wanted it to go, but she came to realize that leaving (as disruptive as it would be) gave him his best chance to wake up and realize how he was not only destroying his family, but himself.

Her decision to separate was born out of love, the kind of love that works for the best interest of another, even if it makes a person mad and uncomfortable. It was an example of what Paul talked about when he wrote:

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9, NLT).

Real love seeks to bless others, but also knows that sometimes you have “hurt” them in order to help.

Just finishing up editing some great discussions on forgiveness for the HFML website with author Dan Allender and Pastor Rod Van Solkema that I think you’ll find challenging. I know I did. One of the noteworthy remarks that I just can’t shake from our discussion was Dan’s comment that:

“Forgiveness is an act of defiance against evil.”

Does that strike you as an odd statement? It did to me. In fact, it takes me back to the surprise I experienced when hiking in Glacier National Park in Montana this past summer.

To my amazement, I witnessed beauty above the tree line in a hostile environment that totally took me off guard. Wow! The  delicate wildflowers that sprouted out of solid rock were breathtaking. My photos just don’t do them justice. They were exquisite! How could such delicate beauty not only grow out of solid rock but flourish in a hostile environment that seemed so utterly antagonistic to their survival?

That’s forgiveness. It’s a reflection of beauty and mercy that defies hostility and adversity. It’s overcoming evil with good.

Too often, I’m afraid, we as Christians have mistakenly fallen under the spell of a maudlin view of forgiveness. We’ve misinterpreted the oft-quoted “turning the other cheek” phrase of Jesus in Matthew 5:39 into a doormat kind of theology. We’ve settled for passive pleasantness and called it forgiveness. It’s not.

Forgiveness isn’t a command to “just play nice.” That requires a flight into a la-la land that has no reality in the real redemption story. Sweeping dirt under a carpet is no way to clean a house. Neither is it healthy to deal with those who are bullies, gossips, liars, deceitful, and a host of other forms of overt and covert relational violence that riddle our churches, schools, homes, communities, neighborhoods, and all relationships. It just gives them more power and permission to reek havoc on those who are more vulnerable.

And let’s face it: everyone struggles to love well. Or maybe it’s better said, we’re just poor at it. Violations of love (otherwise known as “sin”) infect even the best of relationships, making the need for forgiveness–either giving it or receiving it–an ongoing necessity in order for relationships to deepen and grow. No healthy relationships exist apart from a genuine heart of forgiveness that longs for restoration (which, in reality, is the Gospel story replayed day in and day out within the context of our relationships).

While forgiveness is often thought of as weakness, in reality, it’s a demonstration of incredible strength.  Forgiveness doesn’t flee from the face of evil. Nor does it stoop to the level of evil and fight fire with fire (Rom. 12:17).  Paul reminds us of the marching orders for the Christian in Romans 12, that our call is to an authentic Christlike love that joins with Him in the battle for good and against evil:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good . . . do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It’s mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12: 9, 17-19, 21)

Forgiveness is the unlikely weapon that God has given to us to defy evil. To look someone in the eye and be free to say without malice, “Your sin doesn’t control me. And you’re powerless to stop me from not only desiring to do you good, but choosing to do good to you as an act of kindness because of the benevolent kindness that God has shown to me.”

Now that ‘s a process of overcoming evil with good that requires humility and gratitude for the God who has addressed the evil within us with His mercy and grace that “forgives us our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, how bout it? Today, in your one of your “difficult” relationships, are you up to being a little flower in a less than hospitable environment? Are you willing to be that splash of beauty that’s undeterred by adversity? Forgive someone the way that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32) and that’s what you’ll be . . . the beauty of forgiveness that defies evil.


Jeff Olson —  October 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you probably know all about the dramatic rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. The miners were trapped about a half mile underground when part of the San Jose copper and gold mine caved in on August 5th, 2010.  Discovered to be alive 17 days after the collapse, the men survived on meager rations until rescue workers were able to drill a narrow rescue hole and supply them with much needed food and water. They remained trapped for a total of 69 days before they were one by one lifted up to freedom.

As the world watched each miner emerge from the rescue capsule, I couldn’t help but think of the parellels to the Gospel story. Back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve fell under the grip of sin and Satan, God launched the largest rescue operation known to man.  He promised the fallen couple that One (who we now know was Jesus) would eventually come on the scene, defeat Satan for good, and rescue them and their descendants from the kingdom of darkness (Genesis 3:15).

Every time another miner emerged from the darkness of the mine, something in me resonated with the look of overwhelming relief and joy on their faces. It made me think of Jesus coming to rescue us.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves”– Colossians 1:13.

Thank you Lord for all the ways you have come to our our rescue!

Holidays & Heartache

Tim Jackson —  October 8, 2010 — 15 Comments

I’ve sat on this post for over a month. Didn’t know if I really wanted to post it or not. It just opens up areas of woundedness for us all that sometimes I’d just rather say nothing about. But then again, if we . . . I mean . . . if I really do believe that God is up to something good all the time (ya know, it’s a real pain when the Holy Spirit uses something you’ve previously written to remind you of your need to step into hard things), then this post is for all of us who are broken by grief and loss that is relentless. So, here goes . . .

The Labor Day holiday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love holidays–the food and the fun with family and friends. It’s such a delight. But there’s the sadness that another summer is ending. I love the warmth and will miss it in February when the icy Michigan wind is ripping at my face. Yet, the holiday also ushers in the first glimmers of fall–my favorite time of year. Fall–with it’s crisp cool mornings, the pallet of colors soon to be splashed over the maples and punctuated by the brilliant red of the staghorn sumac, the sounds of football on the weekends and geese making their pilgrimage south. And the tastes of apples, pumpkin pie, and my favorite drink–cider.

Okay, I think you get the picture. I like the last blast of the summer holiday. You bet.

But this past Labor Day holiday’s delight with my family and friends was pierced with a call from a close friend who lives just a mile from our home. She was describing to my wife the trauma of being first on the scene of a tragic accident on their way to church that Sunday morning. At the end of their rural country road, a car had failed to stop at a T-intersection and struck an embankment so hard that it was launch through the air, landing on the other side of the embankment completely out of sight of the road. It was the out-of-place plume of smoke in the woods that caught her husband’s attention and sent him exploring. He soon discovered the burning wreckage and immediately dialed 911. But it was too late to rescue the driver.

We later learned that the driver was the 20-year-old daughter and only child of a man who had lost his wife just four years earlier to cancer. The news sent me reeling. How horrible! How unfair! How sad! I was angry. I felt like I wanted to scream. I just imagined if I was in his shoes and that it was one of my daughters. How horrific! How excruciatingly difficult that would be for me . . . and I still have two more children and a wife. How alone when there’s no one else but you. How could this happen! This dear man whose daughter’s life held such promise for him is now gone. No time for goodbyes. Just gone. And he’s all alone. No wife. No daughter. Just alone.

I couldn’t get him off my mind for the rest of the weekend. From now on, every holiday–not just one or two for a while–but every holiday will be stained with the emptiness and loneliness of the absence of not only his precious wife but now his daughter as well. Celebrations will feel futile. Why bother? No one’s here to celebrate with. What’s the point?

When we think of holidays we can easily think of those wonderful, warm, glowing times that are so meaningful to so many. But what about those who struggle with facing their first holidays alone, without the loved ones who have been so precious and irreplaceable to them? When we’re enjoying the good times, do we ever stop to remember those whose hearts are breaking over their grief?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a depressing mood during the holidays. Just that we remember that holidays can be filled not only with joyful celebration but also with heartache that’s crushing for those who have lost someone special to them. And that first year is especially difficult to navigate. To remember brings both joy and pain. And yet, to not remember some how diminishes the worth and value of that unique one-of-a-kind spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend who is noticeable absent.

To suffer in grief seems to be so unfair. Why would God allow us to suffer and not relieve our grief, our sorrow, our pain. Nicholas Waltersdorf, a professor at Yale wrote about his journey through grief in the wake of the death of his son Eric, who died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. In describing his suffering as a father over holiday get-togethers Waltersdorf would say, “Now, when we’re all together, we’re never all together.” He says he came to understand the suffering of God, the Heavenly Father through his own suffering . He wrote:

“It is said of God that no one could behold his face and live. I always thought this
meant no one could see God’s splendor and live. A friend said that perhaps it
means no one can see God’s sorrow and live, or perhaps God’s sorrow is His
splendor. Maybe the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer
with us when he did not have to.”

It is the message of the greatest holiday celebration of all–the invasion of our planet by the Creator God Himself who came to remind us that no matter what losses we may face in this broken world as wounded and hurting people, there is always a reason for hope and joy. Why? Because we are never totally alone. God is with us . . . Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). And God weeps (John 11:35). And, when I think about it . . . maybe it’s true . . . the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer with us when he didn’t have to.

Maybe you have a story of grief and loss that God has brought you through that you would be willing to share with others. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your journey through grief and just want to ask for prayer. Please feel free to share your story or concerns with the community of those who blog and post on this site.

Idol Worship

Allison Stevens —  October 4, 2010 — 6 Comments

A friend of mine recently confessed to me that she has made her children her “idols.” She said her world is wrapped up in them and worrying about them has become a normal way of life for her.  When they do well, she soars emotionally. When they fail, she crashes.

She confessed this sin and reaffirmed that there is “no other Rock” besides God Himself (Isaiah 44:8.) I can identify with her struggle, and, unfortunately, just like Israel, I’ve had to confess the sin of idolatry many times.

God says this about idols:  They’re worthless and those who worship them are blind and stupid. Continued idol worship will bring a person to shame and their lives to destruction (Isaiah 44:8-20.)

Anything can become an idol, no matter how good of a thing it is. Some idols are easier to identify than others. And some idols are incredibly subtle. But they can become idols just the same:

If only I had that job promotion, more money, bigger house, more recreation, expensive clothes, nicer car.

Relationships: Well-behaved children, a better spouse, cooler friends

Anything that gives me my identity: power, popularity, intelligence, beauty

How can we know if something meant for our enjoyment has turned into an idol?  Maybe a good test is this: When we think about not having what we want, we feel anxious, confused, and desperate. 

We think and plan and connive ways to get what we’re after. We’re consumed with anxiety about how to get what we want. We’re confused about which direction to take to get what we want. We wrongly believe that this thing, whatever it is, will bring us life; that it will save us. In desperation, we think that if we don’t have this, we will die.

Can we live without idols?  We can’t live with them. It’s like feeding on ashes (Isaiah 8:20.)