Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenAs I prepare for an upcoming trip to Rwanda (a country I haven’t visited since 2000), a friend recommended the book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura. As I began the book and Musekura shared his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond, I was thrust back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard there when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?

Four More Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323Last week, I shared four quotations on prayer from my message “Making Space for Prayer.” Here are four more quotations from my message, “Praying Like a Master,” which is the second  part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church.

“The Lord’s prayer is the essence of prayer. The essence and limit of all the disciples’ praying may be found in it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 155.

“The major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.” – John R. W. Stott, Sermon: “Growth in the Prayer Life,” 20 August 1989.

“All of the strength that comes in prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything.” – Julian of Norwich in Devotional Classics, revised edition, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2005), 77.

“Christ hath put it [the power of prayer] into the hands of men, and the prayers of men have saved cities and kingdom from ruin; prayer hath raised dead men to life, hath stopped the violence of fire, shut the mouths of wild beasts, altered the course of nature, caused rain in Egypt and drought in the sea. Prayer rules over all gods; it arrests the sun in its course and stays the chariot wheels of the moon; it reconciles our suffering and weak faculties with the violence of torment and the violence of persecution; it pleases God and supplies all our need.” – Jeremy Taylor, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, quoted in Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 113.

Four Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323This past weekend in my message “Making Space for Prayer,” the first part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church, I shared four quotations on prayer that many people asked me about later. Here they are for your edification.

“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have set about praying some of the time somewhere.” – Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 74.

“One of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. . . . We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. . . . And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut.” – John Piper, Desiring God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 150-1.

“Work, work from early till late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther, quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 86.

“One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners. So let’s try to begin together, which is really all we can do.” – Ruth Haley Barton, “Prayer,” in Sacred Rhythms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 63.

Learning to Stop

 

2016-06-06 12.44.01Ten years ago the standard response to the question, “how are you?” was “fine.” That was not a particularly informative answer but it was, well…fine. In today’s American culture, however, the standard response to the question, “how are you” seems to be “busy.”[1]

One social commentator points out that it is not only adults who are busy anymore, but also students and kids who are moving at breakneck pace. We are scheduled down to the slightest half hour, racing around from one activity to another.[2]

In the midst of our fast-paced, packed-out lives, we can often lose time to think, to rest, to play, to be with others, and more.

Of course, that is no less true for leaders in the church. Unfortunately, it is not difficult for me to think about seasons of life as a pastor when I have been rushing from one activity to another as my days, nights, and weekends fill up with endless pastoral needs: sermon preparation, staff meetings, pastoral care visits, weddings, funerals, church council meetings, and more.

In an article entitled “Black Friday and the Importance of Sabbath Rest,” Danielle Tumminio points out that we’ve come a long way from fifty years ago when stores, banks, and businesses were closed on Sundays. She writes:Read More »

An Overview of Fasting

On Wednesday at Eastbrook we begin our forty day journey with the book of Job entitled “Finding God in the Darkness.”  This past weekend in my message “Still God” I mentioned how fasting can be a helpful spiritual practice to help us regain a hunger for God.

I want to refer to a series of posts on fasting that I wrote a number of years back as a resource for understanding fasting in general, certain specific aspects of fasting, biblical backgrounds on fasting, and a few other practical helps on the topic. I hope this is helpful as you utilize fasting to say ‘no’ to yourself and ‘yes’ to God.