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-forgivenThis past weekend in my message, “Reconciliation,” I quoted from Célestin Musekura‘s book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven which he co-authored with L. Gregory Jones. Here is the quotation I referenced, where Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ:

Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda 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?

Relationships with Jesus at the Center (discussion questions)

Jesus at the Center Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Relationships with Jesus at the Center,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Jesus at the Center,” from the book of Colossians. This week we looked at Colossians 3:18-4:1.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What changed in your life most dramatically after you became a follower of Jesus? How did that change occur in your everyday life?
  2. As we continue our series, “Jesus at the Center,” we look this week at Colossians 3:18-4:1. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read that portion aloud.
  3. Background: This portion of Colossians builds from a common concept discussed at the time known as a household code. Aristotle and other ancient thinkers upheld the idea of the father as the head of the household with authority over ‘lesser’ members, including the wife, children, and servants. This household was seen as the basic unit of the greater society. If the households were strong, then the society would be strong.
  4. Before looking at the specific guidelines for relationships seen in Colossians 3:18-4:1, read Colossians 3:1-17 again. What are a few key concepts about relationships within the church from this earlier section that should shape the way we read the coming section?
  5. Now, look at the first relational grouping of wives and husbands in 3:18-19. What is the theme of this relationship in the household and what are both called to do?
  6. Regardless of whether you are married, do you think these verses are easy or difficult to live out? Why would you say that?
  7. Turn now to the next relationship of children and parents in 3:20-21. How would you characterize the relationships? What is Paul calling each party to do?
  8. In the ancient world, the relationship of children toward parents was important throughout life. What do you think this looks like for us today?
  9. The third and final relational grouping is that of servants and masters. These relationships were vital to household relationships, though very different from what we may understand about servitude. What instructions does Paul give to each party? What is common to both of them?
  10. In some ways our work, whether inside or outside the home, parallels the instructions in 3:22-4:1. What does it mean for us to take these attitudes into our workplace?
  11. If the church is the new society of God and the household is the basic unit of the society in the ancient world, what would you say is the significance of the household for our life together in the church? Why is this important for all of us?
  12. What is one significant thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are on your own, you may want to write it down, pray about it, and then share it with someone later. If you are with a small group, share these things with one another and then pray for one another about these things.

Relationships with Jesus at the Center

Jesus at the Center Series Gfx_App Wide
This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series, “Jesus at the Center,” by looking at a series of relationships highlighted in Colossians 3:18-4:1. While I wanted to give appropriate attention to the actual relationships, I also wanted to speak to the background behind these relationships, which fit within a framework often referred to as household codes.  We often lose some of the impact of these sections in relation to the ancient view of society and households as part of that, as well as the redemptive movement of the New Testament teaching.

You can watch the message here, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

We Have Been Changed in Christ: Four Images of Who We Are Now
(Colossians 1:2, 18)

The People – new identity

The Family – new belonging

The Body – new joining

The Church – new beginning


We Have Been Changed in Society: The Church as a Community of Communities
(Colossians 3:18-4:1)

City-state (polis) and household (oikos) in the ancient world

The church as the new polis and our relationships as the new oikos in Christ


We Have Been Changed in Our Relationships: Households Transformed for the Lord
(Colossians 3:18-4:1)

Wives and Husbands – with the love of Christ

Children and Parents – for the honor of Christ

Servants and Masters – in the service of Christ

Glory in the Ordinary

Red_vineyardsThere is a beautifully striking painting by Vincent van Gogh entitled “The Red Vineyard.” This painting was the only official purchase of a van Gogh painting within the artist’s lifetime. Building on the work of Millet before him, van Gogh paints a group of common peasants working diligently in the vineyard, bathed in the warm light of the setting sun. The scene is both commonplace and lofty, everyday and exalted: ordinary people doing their ordinary work, yet splashed with the sun’s glory as they do it.

Surely, this is a picture of how we work with God in our everyday venues of work: ordinary people doing their ordinary work, yet splashed with the glory of Christ as we do our work as unto the Lord (Col 3:22-24).

Opportunities at Work (discussion questions)

God at Work Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany the message I delivered this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, “Opportunities at Work.” This was the fourth and final part of our series, “God at Work.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one example of your best serving moments at work and one of your worst serving moments at work?
  1. This weekend we conclude our series, “God at Work,” by looking at how the Gospel transforms our opportunity with work. Before starting this study, ask God to clearly speak to you in meaningful ways. Then, whether you are alone or with others, read Colossians 3:22-24 aloud.
  1. Background: In Colossians chapter 3 we see the Apostle Paul addressing everyday situations in early believers’ lives with the truth found in Christ. He literally brings it home by addressing key household relationships in the typical Greco-Roman household: wives and husbands, children and parents, household servants and masters of the house.
  1. Verse 22 begins by addressing the Christian ‘slaves’ or ‘servants’. Paul’s letters were read aloud in the public gatherings of the early churches. What do you think the significance might be in Paul addressing slaves or servants directly in this letter read aloud to the entire Christian community?
  1. What sort of attitude does Paul hold up for the believers who work as household servants in verse 22?
  1. Many times, we work to visibly please our bosses in the workplace, but our hearts are not in the work. What would it look like for Christians to take Paul’s instruction in verse 22 seriously?
  1. Each of these three verses connects our work with ‘the Lord’ in one way or another. What phrases does Paul use to connect our work with the Lord in each verse?
  1. What is one specific way you could work for the Lord and not for human masters in your workplace this week (vs 23), no matter the place or type of work is?
  1. What sort of external motivation does Paul set before the Christ-following worker in verse 24?
  1. In this series, we have been exploring how our work and faith come together because of the creation plan of God and the gospel redemption in Jesus Christ. How has your thinking about faith and work changed through this series? What is one practical way God is speaking to you about approaching your life at work differently as you walk forward? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about these things together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.