Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Forgive and Forget

There’s a phrase that people use that kind of drives me crazy. “Forgive and forget.” I have gone through my fair share of hurt in my lifetime, and while I have forgiven people, it’s really hard to forget about it all. Frankly, I don’t know that we need to forget about it either. How does one forget about the scars that have forever changed the way they look at themselves?

I spent a little while this afternoon in conversation with a friend. Amidst our conversation, I reminisced about a past experience that had caused both me and my wife (and probably our immediate family as well) a good deal of hurt. In the midst of the reminiscence, I got pretty agitated and frustrated. It’s hard for me not to get somewhat upset when I remember that time and the emotion that my wife and I both felt as we felt that we were so helplessly navigating the waters of our situation.

I guess what really matters in the forgiveness is that we not forget, but that we truly forgive. It can’t just be lip service, we need to really exhibit behavior that tells everyone that we have forgiven. It’s easy for me to say that I have forgiven someone while still holding a grudge in my heart. I honestly thought that I had forgiven the people who had caused us such pain, but after this afternoon, I’m not so sure that I did.

Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I have found that it’s incredibly difficult to stay angry with someone when I am praying for them. It’s not easy, and it takes time to move past those prayers like, “Lord, I’m praying for them, but I don’t like it.” Or “Lord, I pray that you will teach them a lesson that they won’t ever forget.” Those aren’t the kinds of prayers that Jesus was talking about when he said what he said in Luke 6. He meant that we need to pray for them and ask that God would bless them.

That’s no easy task. It takes a process of praying. It can’t be something that we do once and really expect that we will be transformed. Transformation is like what happens to a caterpillar when it turns into a butterfly: it takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight. As we pray for those who hurt us and mistreat us, God changes our hearts, He breaks our hearts for these people.

I realized this afternoon that I had stopped praying for the people who had hurt me. My reaction really came out of the fact that I had shirked my responsibility in praying for them. I’m not sure when I stopped praying, but it must have been long enough ago to have had me have the reaction that I did when speaking with my friend.

So, if you have experienced hurt, which I know you have, try praying for the people who have hurt you. Sometimes there are opportunities to talk out the situation with those people. I had those opportunities, took those opportunities, and have come a long way from those opportunities. Maybe you still have those opportunities. Take them. Also, as you pray for the people, pray that God would change your heart and help you to forgive them. Holding a grudge never hurts the people who you hold a grudge against, they don’t even know that you’re holding it against them. But it does hurt you.

May we pray for the ones who hurt us in order that God might transform us into people who love Him and others more and more every day.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I have a pretty vast music collection. There’s not that much that I don’t listen to. I guess as I get older, I’m showing some of my preferences. I’ve been a big Dylan fan for a while, enough to have one of his songs sung at my wedding and to name my firstborn after him. Also been a fan of Miles Davis, though I am not impressed with his misogynistic ways, he played a mean trumpet and could always do a lot with just a few notes.

One of the sections of my collection that is always growing is my soundtrack collection. I would have to say that my two favorite soundtrack composers are John Williams and Danny Elfman. Both are unique in their styles and are probably fairly opposite of one another. John Williams writes sweeping orchestral scores while Danny Elfman is a former progressive 80s rock band frontman (he used to sing lead vocals for Oingo Boingo, you know, “It’s a dead man’s party….”).

The thing about movie soundtracks is that, for anyone who pays attention, the good ones can take you right back to that movie. Who hasn’t looked for a whip and a fedora after hearing the Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Who doesn’t start doing their best Darth Vader impression when they heard the Imperial March from Star Wars? Who doesn’t say, “E.T. phone home” after hearing that movie’s theme song? Maybe I’m the weird one, but I do it all the time.

Dick Clark said, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.” I would have to agree. I legitimately think that it’s possible to choose the wrong song for a moment. As a melancholic, one who is easily drawn into the emotion of the moment, I have to be pretty careful about what I listen to and when. For instance, in self-preservationist fashion, I load my CD player for my weekly drives to northern Virginia strategically so as to have all of the rockin’ fast music come while I am on my way home at 10PM at night. There’s less chance of me falling asleep. Also, when I am driving to church on Sunday mornings, preparing to lead people in worship, you’re probably not going to find Ozzy Osbourne in my CD player. To be honest, silence works well during those moments.

But I echo Dick Clark’s statement because I have seen how true it is in my life. I can remember the song that my wife and I danced to for our first dance at our wedding. I can remember the songs that we had sung at our wedding. I can remember songs that were meaningful when I was in high school, ones that were “my song” with girls that I dated back then. I can remember songs that have been sung at funerals or other occasions that have stirred my heart. Music has the ability to sweep me away from the moment that I am in to a moment that I experienced once upon a time.

To be honest, I have to be careful too, with my tendency to be driven into a state of melancholy, that I don’t listen to certain music during certain periods of my life. It’s just not a good idea. It’s sort of like those two guys in City Slickers who make ice cream (a play on Ben and Jerry). The one can pick the perfect flavor for whatever kind of food someone might suggest. They test him on it and he proves himself with flying colors. Now, I’m not saying that I can pick the perfect song for any occasion, but I definitely know when songs fit and when they don’t. In some ways, I’m constructing the soundtrack of my life.

To some people, music is background noise. Others need complete silence to hear every note in order that they don’t miss something. Regardless of how you listen to music, it probably has a greater impact on you than you really knew. Not all music is good to listen to all the time.

As you walk through life, making memories, take note of the kind of music that you hear. Is it happy? Is it sad? Is it majestic and sweeping? Does it make you want to dance? If not, what can you do to change the soundtrack? What can you do to make sure that the music matches the moment as completely as possible? What kind of music are you making with your life?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


As a pastor, I get to see and hear a lot of different things. Funny, I grew up in a pastor’s house and remember the whisperings of my parents who were no doubt trying to keep these kinds of stories from me. The stories run the gamut of topics, some of them are funny, some of them are sad, some make you angry, and some simply stun you as you wonder whether you’re dreaming at the absurdity of it all.

I have listened to people talk about the abuse that they have endured over long periods of time. I’ve sat in court waiting rooms with people who had to come face to face with their attackers. I have entered hospital rooms of recently deceased people as their families sat stunned at the reality of life that they were now facing. I’ve counseled people who had been convicted of things that would keep me from wanting my children around them. I’ve visited prisons and tried to act as if the idea of being there didn’t scare the crap out of me.

One thing that I have consistently seen in all of these situations is the grace of God. Ironically, that grace has more often than not come from unexpected places. I’ve seen people who by right should be bitter, angry, and unforgiving who have come to love and forgive the people who have caused them unspeakable pain. When I see this, I can’t help but stand in amazement at the God who has given them that grace.

As we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of Jesus’ words while on the cross, hanging naked in front of the very people who so desperately longed to see him there. Luke 23:34 reads, “Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Jesus exercised grace to the ones who had hurt him. That grace that was depicted in his crucifixion was just a glimpse into the grace that God had been exercising for years with His people. They had constantly run away from Him and been unfaithful, prostituting themselves with false gods and idols, pursuing their own selfish desires for a season before returning to the God who had been so gracious to them with repentant hearts.

Grace is a funny thing. We all love to receive it, but don’t have the easiest time giving it. In the midst of some of my experiences, I have desperately prayed that God would save my judgmental heart and help me to extend grace to people. It’s hard! Some situations more than others! But I have always had to think about how I would be feeling had I been standing or sitting where they were. I have seen too many cases in my own life where a few missteps past where I had gone could have landed me in situations where I may have needed more grace in the eyes of humanity than I did. I’ve thought to myself, “If I were them, how would I want me to react?”

Self-preservation seems to be an innate behavior. We all want to protect ourselves and the ones that we love. Sometimes our reactions are based on this self-preservation, but it’s not the healthiest thing all the time. Sometimes, we need to move past it to get to the place of grace. Grace and self-preservation don’t really coexist well together. In fact, I don’t think that they can. To get to that place of grace, we need to shed the armor of self-preservation and allow ourselves some vulnerability. That vulnerability might hurt, it might cause us pain, but it will allow us to be more like the One whom we follow. It will allow us to understand a little bit more exactly what He went through in order to redeem a fallen world and make a way to restore creation’s relationship with their Creator.

I can’t say that I never have a hard time with grace, that would be a lie (which I would need grace to be forgiven of), but I try. Next time you encounter a situation where grace is necessary, ask yourself how you would feel if you were on the other end of the situation. Chances are you’d want the grace that you may be hesitant to give. None of us will live lives in which we won’t need a little grace, let’s show a little grace in return.

Monday, March 15, 2010


One of the aspects of my job that I have a love/hate relationship with is pastoral care. This is the responsibility of being the “pastor-on-call” and being available when people have surgeries, go to the hospital, have loved ones pass, or other significant life events that are taxing. There are some weeks that nothing significant happens when I am on call and other times where there is enough going on to keep me and my fellow pastors busy for a month.

The reason that I say I have a love/hate relationship with pastoral care is because life happens at its own pace, it never checks in to see whether or not it’s convenient for you or the people to whom you need to minister. It has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it and slapping you across the fate. Crises come into our lives, not like a welcome and invited guest, but as a perpetrator to the privacy and sometimes peacefulness of our lives. For that reason, I dislike it.

The reason that I love it is because I love stories. I am always willing to sit and listen to a good story. If you tell me that you have a story to tell me, I will most likely give you the time to tell it. I love to hear stories about people, especially the people with whom I am talking. Story always lets me get a glimpse into a life that I never saw before. Story always tells me what has happened before the moment in which I am taking part. Story gives me context and helps me understand why someone is the way that they are. Story makes a personal connection and people move from being faces to being personalities.

One day, I could probably write a book from all of the stories that I have heard just in my time of doing pastoral care. I could probably fill volumes, if I could actually remember all of the stories. But I can’t, so there won’t be any book deal today.

One of the stories that I constantly ask to hear from people is how they met their spouse. This is always incredibly entertaining when their spouse happens to be there with them. The entertaining part isn’t so much the telling of the story, but rather what happens before words are even spoken. Body language often starts the story before a mouth has even uttered a word. Certain couples will look at each other and it brings them back to a day years earlier when they stood face to face in front of each other and a whole lot of people and uttered words of commitment to one another. In those brief seconds, the couple relives that day right before my eyes. Then they start to describe their meeting, their courtship, their wedding, and all the aspects of their life together that have brought them to that moment. It’s a pretty cool experience.

The other story that I love to hear people talk about is when they met Jesus. Yet again, the story begins well before a word is even uttered. They are taken back to a day when they met someone who changed their life. Some stories are simple and plain, while others are the stuff that movies and books are made from. Regardless of which kind they are, it’s always exciting for me to hear these stories because it reminds me of when I met Jesus. My story isn’t anything extraordinary, it’s simple, but I know how that meeting has changed my life.

Stories take time. Some stories are better than others. Some stories meander, twist, and turn before they finally reach any kind of point or purpose. But they are all real stories that have been lived by real people. When I take the time to ask these kinds of questions and patiently wait for the stories to be told, I get a glimpse of something that you don’t see every day. If pastoral care wasn’t one of the things that I had to do, love it or hate it, I wouldn’t have that opportunity.

What kinds of things are you missing because you haven’t taken the time or opportunity to be patient and listen?