Seven Ways to Avoid Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Just ask my kids. As my wife and I are daily teaching them to reconcile with mom and dad and each other—for hitting, biting, lying, failing to obey, not showing love, etc—we have learned some words are harder to say than others. We’ve realized, “Please forgive me for ___________ (fill in sin here)” … are the most difficult. Saying I’m sorry or he started it seem to come more naturally. They’ll use a thousand different words before they’ll use forgiveness language. I think like all of us my children realize there’s something weighty about forgiveness. Something is taking place when we request forgiveness which we can be avoided when we seek other means of responding to sin and conflict.

Three Musts for Every Sermon

The Apostle Paul once wrote, we preach Christ and him crucified. When it comes to the sermon content is king because Christ the King is always the sermon’s supreme content. However the shape of a sermon puts this preeminent content on fullest display. So, let’s consider the sermon.

When a follower of Jesus walks away from a Sunday message believing they have heard a “good sermon” I think it’s because three things have taken place within the sermon’s structure. First, the sermon exposed the truth and beauty. Second, the preacher exalted Christ. Third, the message equipped the Church.


Grieving is a deeply gospel practice. It’s sanctifying. When we grieve we acknowledge with sorrow that something is not as it should be. And so this year, this week, today I am grieving. In a family meeting last night the elders of Willow Creek Community Church acknowledged with confession and action that things were not as they should be. I won’t recount the details of their confession nor the situations that led to their resignation. I believe those specifics are well document elsewhere. I’d like to consider how we ought to respond as the Church and how I ought to respond as an elder and church leader.


Many years ago I was preaching on a Sunday morning. As I prepared earlier that week I sensed an acute impulse to personally apply the sermon's main point. I remember feeling remorseful. I remember being anxious. God was inviting me into confession. And he was clear, this was not just for my personal formation during study time, he led me to write this confession of sin in my manuscript. And so on Sunday morning I confessed sin publicly before my church.


Adam and Eve were just married. And then a snake slithered alongside. But before the snake entered the story, God gave Adam instructions, rules, and terms of their relationship and with respect to the world he created. Genesis 2:16-17 says ...


The Word of God says much about God’s word. It endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). It is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). It lights our path (Psalm 119:105). It corrects (2 Timothy 3:16). It restores (Psalm 19:7). It reveals (Hebrews 4:13). Recorded and collected into an unassuming piece of technology—a book, with sixty-six volumes, written by forty human writers, and all inspired by God himself—the power and importance of Scriptures cannot be overstated. The Word of God is unlike anything.


Scripture is filled with wisdom. Both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, in the ESV translation of the Bible, wisdom makes an appearance over 200 times. Implicitly, it is much more difficult to count the number of places God’s Word gives us wise content. Nevertheless wisdom is woven through hundreds of Scriptutre’s inspired pages. In fact we would not be wrong to see every word in the Bible as the revealed wisdom of God. Suffice to say, Scripture is filled with wisdom.


This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assaination in Memphis, TN—April 4, 1968. Today is his birthday—January 15, 1929. Writing a worthy tribute of such a man feels is impossible. After all he was not just one man, he was many. So let me simply say I am in a deep process of growing in my understanding and gratitude for Rev. Dr. King. Therefore my words today may perhaps be much more about me than him—forgive me for that. 


Death and taxes have a long lost brother--waiting. After all waiting seems just as certain for us humans as our own funerals and April 15th. Waiting is inevitable. Waiting is hard. And yet, I believe, waiting is for our joy. Much of the Christian life is waiting. This shouldn't be surprising to us, but it often is. Think about it. From Genesis to the Gospels, God's people are waiting. They are waiting on God. They were instructed by him to wait on him (Hosea 12:6).


A religious leader came up to Jesus. He had a question and called him teacher. But his invisible motives are made clear through Scripture's inspiration--he was coming to testJesus. He asked, what's the greatest commandment? Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 6, saying to love God with our whole self is the first and greatest commandment. Then Jesus said "and" ... apparently the greatest commandment has an inherent implication. Jesus said, the second is like it, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." 


Nearly every Sunday I walk ten minutes to a coffee shop. My route takes me through a cross-section of my neighborhood--passed as many newly constructed homes as vacant storefronts with nothing left to tell the story but former company names hanging over the front door. I sit at a table with my sermon notes, my Bible, and a cup of coffee. Usually I only have about an hour before I walk to the school where our church meets on Sunday mornings. It’s one of my favorite hours of my week. 


Raising kids is always difficult. At a basic level, parenting is a conflict of wills--the will of a parent and the will of a child. This tension is enough to produce countless premature gray hairs, sleepless nights, and heated conversations. However parenting is more difficult still. After all we do not raise children in sterilized vacuums of culture, we raise them in a maze of cultures and social complexities. Therefore every day as moms and dads we are battling the genuineness of our own will, the development of our children's will, and the prevailing pressures of a surrounding world whose collective will rarely seems to make our jobs any easier.


Fridays are my day off. Within Christian circles we might call it a Sabbath or day of rest. Mine is on Friday; I know, not Sunday. We pastors have an ironic relationship with Sundays—“the official day of rest” is perhaps our most tiring of the week. Though this is quickly changing, historically Sundays have been set aside for rest—inside and outside the church.


It's difficult to express the influence Haddon Robinson has had on my life and preaching. In fact, I'm sure I don't even know the depth of it. After all his preached words and ministerial ways have been instrumental in the shaping of a great majority of the ministry leaders and preachers who have influenced me and my generation--whether we know it or not. Countless books on homiletics use his theories and "big idea" construct as their foundation. So it's nearly impossible to comprehend let alone describe how Dr. Robinson has impacted me. 


I’ve embraced my share of fads. Most notably sporting multiple WWJD bracelets in the 90s, shaving a Nike Swoosh in my hair in junior high, and currently buttoning the top button of my collard shirts (sans a tie). Generally speaking a fad is a widely shared enthusiasm—person, place, or thing—that is usually short-lived and has little consideration for quality. In other words few fads aim for endurance but are simply pleased to be popular. And as I hope you will tell from my own admission (and yours!) fads are not merely an issue with prevailing pop-culture but more alarmingly within religious Church culture. 


Kimberly is devastatingly sweet. Her likability may only be outdone by her fashion sensibility. Without fail she exemplifies her profession every time I see her—she is a stage designer. She became good friends with my wife, Laura and they regularly enjoyed conversations and walks down the street between our apartments.


Promises are powerful. Whether a parent promises to come their kid's baseball game or I promise my wife I will love her and be true to her "until death do us part” … promises are powerful. With words we regularly attempt to assure those around us of our character or behavior, particularly as it relates to the future. So making promises is a primary way our love and invisible qualities are revealed. But every promise involves risk.


Menus are terrifying. To be sure they are little more than lists of available options—yet often in culinary languages difficult for me to understand; laced with unfamiliar insider foodie vocabulary. However the words are the least of my discomforts at a new restaurant. When perusing a new menu the sheer reality of choice is overwhelming.


Before my wife and I put our children to sleep, we sing a song and pray. Recently, they started picking up our routine. My daughter sings along. My son mumbles noises shaped like the melody. They slightly bow their heads and say amen. I’m fully aware they are mostly unaware of the details and depth of the Christian faith woven through the song and prayer. But they are picking up on something.