August 26, 2013

As We Forgive - We Have Left

Forgiveness is a topic at the heart of Christian living, but it doesn't seem to me that we talk about it very much in terms of our own healing and growth. We repent and get baptized for the forgiveness of our sins by God, and we're taught the Lord's Prayer where we learn that we must continue forgiving people to have our sins forgiven, but there's some deeper thinking to do about forgiveness in the Bible when we look at the Greek text.

But before that, I think that a lot of us have some misconceptions about who forgiveness actually is supposed to benefit. It's difficult, if not impossible, to say in psychological terms that God's forgiveness of us benefits Him in some way, but our forgiveness of others is primarily for our own benefit. When we forgive, we quit carrying around anger, resentment, and spite, freeing ourselves to focus on more beneficial things and actions. The topic of forgiveness is usually accompanied by the topic of reconciliation, but those are two separate and very different things.

The Greek word in the Lord's Prayer where we forgive others, ἀφήκαμεν (aphēkamen), occurs only three times in the Bible, in the Prayer in Mt. 6:12, and then again in the parallel passages of Mt. 19:27 and Mk. 10:28. But in those other two passages, aphēkamen is translated not as 'we forgive' but as 'we have left'. (27 Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?")

The Disciples left behind the things that would have held them back from following Jesus. When we leave the topic of reconciliation aside, forgiveness is exactly that; leaving behind the burdens of anger and frustration that hinder us in our walk with Christ. That is why forgiveness is for our benefit, and not the other person.

Many times, we also have to forgive ourselves for things we have done, or that we blame ourselves for allowing to happen to us. These burdens can be much harder to lay down and walk away from, and are often more crippling than the others. But we still must leave these things to follow Jesus.

Competent Comforting 3 - The Listening

By the time your friend wants to start talking, which can be from a few hours to a few days, you've hopefully been able to communicate effectively that you're completely present to help tend to their needs. And now is the to make sure you can be completely present and able to suspend you own internal dialogue for a while.

If you can't do this right now, that's ok. Don't try to force it. Find a way to take a short break or gracefully leave and come back another time in the near future. This is going to be work, and faking it will be more uncomfortable than parting and returning.

Some folks seem to be natural listeners in conversations. This isn't necessarily a sign of good listening skills, so don't go on the assumption that this part will be easy if you're one of those natural listeners. You're going to hear a wide range of things, some of which can provoke strong reactions within you.

August 25, 2013

Competent Comforting 2 - Presence

Just being there.

Probably the most important thing we can do for our friends.

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

Sometimes, we may need to do nothing more than this.

Competent Comforting 1 - Ourselves

At some point in our lives, we're all going to need comforting, and will come into contact with people that need comforting in a crisis or grief situation. But if we're not ready with a bit of knowledge in how to properly comfort someone in these times, we can wind up being like Job's friends:
1Then Job replied:
2“I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
3Will your long-winded speeches never end?
What ails you that you keep on arguing? - Job 16:1-3

 Sometimes it's more about knowing what not to say more than knowing the right thing. In the next few posts, I'll be talking about some things we can all do to make us effective and competent at comforting our friends and loved ones in times of crisis and grief.

Inspired by God for Edifying or for Restricting?

Just about anyone who has been, grown up in, or had a confrontation with literalism has been confronted with 2 Tim. 3:16 (All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;) as a proof-text that the Bible is God's inerrant and literal book of rules. But is this really what that verse means, or does it have a larger meaning when taken in a larger spiritual context?

To take "inspired by God" (in Greek, God-breathed) and use it as proof for inerrancy requires us to logically move directly from 'God' to 'perfect' and ignore the decidedly imperfect thing that lies in between: people. Also, at the time Paul wrote this to Timothy, the only Scripture he could have been referring to was the Old Testament. A Jew such as Paul would have completely believed that the Hebrew scriptures were from God, but as a new being in Christ, and considering the other things Paul wrote against law-keeping, would he really have been trying to tell Timothy that his other letters should be considered a perfect rule-book with no errors? Was Paul giving Timothy a set of restrictions, or a set of tools with which to build up himself and others?

Let's look at a bit more of the 2 Tim. passage to get some more context:

August 18, 2013

New Direction...

This morning, I'll be officially placing membership at the church that I attended in my teenage years. I and that congregation have both changed a lot in thirty years, and I've felt completely comfortable in the past few weeks I've been attending services there.

Why did I leave the last church I was attending? Primarily because they're going in a direction that I didn't feel had very much to offer me in terms of my usefulness to others. I honestly can't tell you how many ministers ordained by the denomination attend there, but it turns out to be many more than I ever realized. Being someone who believes in the universal priesthood of believers, the concept of official ordination doesn't really sit well with me, and the clergy/laity boundary only makes me feel somewhat alienated and minimally useful to the Church.