Forgiveness: The Very Essence of Our Faith

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, you Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15

Joseph was the pride and joy of his father. Though Jacob had ten other sons, he favored Joseph, the one born to him in his old age. Jacob never bothered to hide his special feelings—not even from his other sons. In fact, he expressed his favoritism blatantly and visibly by having an expensive coat made especially for Joseph.

This did not go unnoticed by the older brothers, and they began to resent their spoiled young sibling. Joseph, who was either oblivious to their resentment or insensitive to it, made it worse by bragging to his brothers about his dreams that he would one day rule over them. In one dream, his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowed down to his. In another dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him.

Eventually, Joseph’s vivid dreams and their father’s favoritism so infuriated the brothers that they plotted Joseph’s death. While trying to decide the best way to accomplish it, they spotted a caravan of spice traders on the way to Egypt. Instead of killing Joseph, they decided to sell him as a slave. They said good riddance to their dreaming brother and made up a story to tell their father about his favorite son’s tragic fate.

So much for dreams of greatness. At age seventeen, Joseph became a slave in Egypt, then a prisoner in a rank dungeon for a crime he did not commit. The situation provided Joseph with plenty of time to think about his life and what he had done. Somewhere along the way, Joseph made a choice. He decided to forgive his brothers. Eventually God fulfilled the promise he had conveyed through dreams to the brash young man, but not before refining Joseph’s character through forgiveness.

The Importance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something all of us want to receive but most of us hesitate to give. Jesus makes it clear, however, that we can’t have it without giving it. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15). These words allow no room for doubt or discussion. Forgiveness flows two ways. We cannot separate receiving forgiveness from extending forgiveness.

Forgiveness is at the core of emotional well-being. It is fair to say that unforgiving people are emotionally sick. Their bitterness is a disease of the spirit, and it is inevitable that the unforgiving person eventually will experience physical illness as well. Anger causes surges of adrenaline and secretes other powerful chemicals that attack the body. The stress we carry when we refuse to give or receive forgiveness affects our hearts, minds, and bodies. To make matters worse, both rage and depression contribute to obsessive behaviors such as overeating, workaholism, overspending, and even addictions to pornography and mood-altering drugs. We cannot rid ourselves of emotional pain and its side effects unless we are willing to forgive.

Unresolved anger keeps us from moving forward because it locks us in a time machine, frozen on the exact moment when a particular offense occurred. Fear of further injury makes us unwilling to move to new levels of relationship, not only with those who have hurt us but with anyone who represents a similar threat.

Furthermore, if we allow unforgiveness to continue, we are likely to experience depression, bitterness, or both. Yet more important than any of these concerns is the most serious consideration of all—the spiritual consequence of unforgiveness: alienation from God.

Forgiveness cannot begin until we admit our own failures. If we cannot do that much, we can neither give nor receive forgiveness. We cannot receive forgiveness without acknowledging our need for it, and we cannot extend forgiveness without admitting that because of our own imperfect condition we have no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone else. For Christians, forgiveness is non-negotiable; it is the very essence of our faith.

Obstacles to Forgiveness: Fear or Misconception

Fear

The reason many of us refuse to forgive is our fear of loss. And there’s no denying that forgiveness requires us to give up attitudes and actions that are important to us.

Fear of Losing the Energy that Anger Produces. Some people are reluctant to let go of the burning energy that rage generates. It’s like a fuel that keeps them moving. Without it they would likely descend into despair and purposelessness because their anger is their purpose.

Fear of Losing Leverage in a Relationship. Those who are still smarting from pain are not eager to risk being hurt again. They assumed that if they forgive the guilty party, he or she will feel free to repeat the offense. This brings up an important point: Forgiveness does not guarantee a change in the other person’s behavior. Forgiveness is an act of obedience, not a tool of manipulation. It is a way of cleaning up the grudges and resentments that damage us. Although we cannot stop people from hurting themselves, we can, in some situations (if we are not legally or morally tied to the offender), guard ourselves against repeated injury. By removing ourselves from the relationship or by changing the rules of engagement, we can limit the person’s ability to continue hurtful behavior.

Fear of Losing Hope for a Better Relationship. Some people have expectations for friends and family that are too high. As the years go by, repeated foolish choices and ongoing evidence of serious character flaws devastate those who expect too much. In such cases, it is necessary to forgive people simply for being who and what they are and to accept that they probably are not going to change.

Fear of Losing Power and Control. Refusing to forgive keeps others in our debt. In families, we often see parents who hold some wrong against an adult child, exacting payment in visits, gifts, and favors. Although forgiving feels like an act of surrender, those who’ve done it know it’s an act requiring tremendous strength.

Fear of Losing the Image of Superiority. Holding an offense against another person places us in a “good guy, bad guy” picture with ourselves wearing the white hat. Imagining that we are better than others makes us feel good, but such a prideful attitude is unacceptable to God. When we hold people captive to our judgment, we play God in their lives. This places us in an unwinnable wrestling match with our Creator, who, as the apostle, James reminded us, “sets himself against the proud” (James 4:6).

Misconception

Some of the greatest obstacles to forgiveness are the misconceptions about what it is. Realizing what forgiveness is not may make it easier.

It is NOT Condoning the Behavior. Once we understand that the act of forgiving does not compromise our moral standard by condoning the offense, we are in a position to forgive even the worst of sins. To forgive is not saying, “What you did is okay.” It is saying, “The consequences of your behavior belong to God, not to me.” When we forgive, we transfer the person from our system of justice to God’s. To forgive is to recognize that the wrong done against us is a debt of sin, and all sin is against God. Therefore, in forgiving, we transfer the debt from our ledger of accounts to God’s, leaving all recompense in his hands.

It is NOT Forgetting What Happened. It would be foolish to erase from mind some of the wrongs done to us. If we were to do so, we would never learn from our experiences and would walk right back into the same or a similar situation, only to face the same disappointments. What can eventually be forgotten are the raw emotions associated with the event. When we forgive, the terrible memories and feelings gradually diminish.

It is NOT Restoring Trust in the Person. Trust is earned. It is something we give to those who deserve it. To blindly trust someone who has hurt us is naïve and irresponsible. If a person is a thief, it is foolish to give her a key to your house. If he were a pedophile, you would be derelict to hire him as a baby-sitter. We can forgive people from the wrong they’ve done without extending to them an open invitation to do it again. It is foolish to trust and untrustworthy person.

It is NOT Agreeing to Reconcile. Forgiveness is a necessary step toward reconciliation, but reconciliation is not necessarily the goal of forgiveness. In fact, there are some situations when reconciliation is not a good idea. It is silly, if not dangerous, to press for reconciliation when the other person is unrepentant, unchanging, or unwilling.

It is NOT Doing the Person a Favor. In Judaism, forgiveness is not required unless repentance is demonstrated and pardon is sought. But Jesus raised the standard of forgiveness to a higher level. According to him, we are to forgive even those who remain unrepentant. Forgiveness benefits the giver at least as much as the receiver, so we extend it whether or not the person asks for it.

It is NOT Easy. Forgiving is difficult enough when it involves a one-time transgression. It verges on the impossible when the offense is ongoing. Such circumstances require an attitude of forgiveness, not simply and act of forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive, Jesus gave an unsettling answer:

Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Think about the mathematics of that statement. Can you imagine forgiving anyone, even for a minor offense, 490 times? Imagine having a neighborhood kid ride his bike through your garden even day of the week for seventy weeks. (That’s one year, four months, and two weeks!)

Jesus is asking us to do something that is humanly impossible. In and of ourselves we don’t have enough forgiveness to go around. But God does. So when our limited resources run out and we are unable to forgive, we can ask him to forgive others through us. In so doing, we take one more step of obedience and allow ourselves to become a conduit of God’s grace.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Pree

The above piece is an adaptation from Transformation, by Steve Arterburn. Wheaton, Tyndale House Publishers.

Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Ministries, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the lead speaker at The New Life Weekend, a conference with specialty programs for Marriage, Balancing Your Life, Anger, Fear, Boundaries, Depression, Weight Loss, Abuse, and Forgiveness. Steve is also the creator of Women of Faith® Conferences and the author/coauthor of over fifty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, Internet Protect Your Kids, Every Man’s Battle, Avoiding Mr. Wrong, Reframe Your Life, and Midlife Manual for Men.

 

BEAUTIFUL WEATHER ALL YEAR

Throughout the year, temperatures can fluctuate with annoying regularity. Is there such a place untouched by the highs and lows of weather? Thankfully, yes. Check out these sunny destinations where it’s always summer.

Costa Rica

View of Papagayo Bay, Costa Rica
Credit: Terraxplorer/iStock

With an average low temperature of around 78° F (26° C), Costa Rica is a tropical gem. The summer and winter months are marked by rain rather than temperature drops, with the wet season running May to November. Despite these afternoon showers, your favorite summertime activities are always on offer—like beach bathing, surfing, hiking and zip-lining, to name a few. Interact with the country’s unique wildlife, like three-toed sloths and ocelots, while you explore a rich and diverse landscape. If the temperatures do drop below 80, never fear. Just dip a toe in the thermal hot springs huddled around the base of the Arenal Volcano.

 

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Clock Tower Gate
Credit: garytog/iStock

Never dropping below sunny and 75° F, Cartagena de Indias is a dream escape for anyone who chills easily. In fact, winter in Cartagena just means the weather is even more perfect, with less humidity and a bit of a breeze to level you out. Stroll through the colorful colonial streets without a jacket or hop between nearby islands for some world-class sunbathing. With some stunning accommodations and delicious cuisine, you’ll never want to return home.

Cape Verde

Panoramic view of Tarrafal beach in Santiago island in Cape Verde
Credit: Samuel Borges Photography/ShutterStock

A little-known volcanic archipelago off the coast of Africa, Cape Verde is the land of all your summer dreams. Home to more beaches than you can visit in one trip, the sun shines so brightly here you’re guaranteed a tan and a smile when you return home. Explore the islands’ unique colonial heritage, which is colored by Portuguese influence and showcased in unique architecture and little island towns. Sail between islands, hike volcanoes and then spend the night dancing to the nation’s unique morna music.

Dubai, United Arab EmiratesDubai Marina skyline
Credit: Easyturn/iStock

Dubai is the city of the future, with glittering skyscrapers and ever more extraordinary feats of technology and design. It’s also a land of sunshine, its soaring 100°+ summer temperatures dropping to a reasonable and comfortable 70° F in the winter. This is the perfect city for those who want sunshine without the accompanying humidity. The dry desert heat means you can enjoy the best that Dubai has to offer, from skydiving over the manmade island Palm Jumeirah to ascending the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.

Malta

Domes and roofs of Valletta , Malta
Credit: KavalenkavaVolha/iStock

Europe’s sunniest country is paradise for the cold-hating traveler. Nights get a little chilly, but for a nation with over 300 days of sunshine a year, you won’t have to worry about packing extra layers. Whether you wander the fortifications of Valleta or scuba dive through hidden coves along the rocky coast, Malta’s offerings never fail to delight.

 

Mexico

Ruins of Tulum, Mexico and a palm tree overlooking the Caribbean Sea in the Riviera Maya
Credit: Jess Kraft/ShutterStock

Mexico as a whole is delightful year-round, not to mention incredibly accessible, with tons of direct flights from the United States. From navigating Aztec ruins and museums in Mexico City to lazing on paradise beaches in Tulum and Todos Santos, Mexico has it all. Oh, and did we mention the tacos?

Since her first trip across the pond Kellie has been a voracious traveler. As the Editor of The Discoverer she is passionate about sharing stories from around the globe and inspiring others to leave their comfort zones. Kellie has her MFA in Creative Writing and in her free time tries (and mostly fails) to cook.

 

5 Tips for Off-Season Travel

TRIPS & TRICKS

In general, traveling in the off-season is a great way to save money. That said, heading somewhere where the weather is only good a few months out of the year in its off months isn’t necessarily a great idea. If you know where to look and how to book, you can still have a fantastic time while saving a surprising amount of money. You just need to keep a few tips in mind.

Avoid Hotspot Holidays

Pubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, New Orleans USA.
Credit: f11photo/ Shutterstock

Peak season doesn’t always follow the weather. Often, a destination’s busiest time corresponds with a particular holiday or event. Take New Orleans, for example. If you go there during Mardi Gras, not only will it be absolutely crowded, but prices will be at their highest. Meanwhile, Munich overflows with visitors during Oktoberfest celebrations. Make sure to research local events and holidays before you book your tickets, to make sure there isn’t a corresponding spike in prices and crowds.

Outdoor Alternatives

Lake Tahoe east shore.
Credit: topseller/ Shutterstock

If a given destination has a strong emphasis on outdoor activities, there’s a good chance that it will be much more crowded when the weather behaves. If you travel to partake in these outdoor excursions, you might just have to brave peak season, but you might also check to see if there are other activities on offer, even when the weather isn’t ideal.

Consider ski resorts, for example. Lake Tahoe or Vail may be crowded and expensive in the winter, but the crowds drop off considerably in the summer. Many of these resorts offer excellent deals in the summer, which is great if you want to relax or get some other outdoor activities like mountain biking in. National parks are another example. Most of these are crowded in the summer, but many remain open in the winter. If you’re willing to brave the cold, you may find that you have a much better time.

Find the Edges

Credit: lunamarina/ Shutterstock

Visiting a destination during its off-season doesn’t necessarily mean going there when nobody else wants to. Depending on where you’re headed, there’s a good chance that if you go either a little earlier, a little later, or just a little rather outside the central hub of activity, you’ll have just as much fun while paying a whole lot less.

Cape Cod is one example. The vast majority of people heading here will be here in July and August. Ask a local, however, and they’ll tell you that September or even October is the best time to visit the Cape. The crowds thin out and prices drop, but the weather is still beautiful.

You can also consider a stay in a neighboring town to avoid high prices during popular times. Scout Airbnb options just outside the city and rent a car or rely on public transportation to help you enjoy the area.

Indoor Destinations

Credit: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

You also need to consider why you’re going somewhere in addition to when you’re going there. If you’re only going somewhere to spend most of your time inside, like in museums or restaurants for example, does it really matter what the weather is like outside? Plenty of people visit Europe in the summer, but if you’re headed to Paris to partake in its many museums, consider the winter.

Does the Off-Season Matter?

aradise beach on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Tropical coast with palms hanging over turquoise sea.
Credit: Simon Dannhauer/ Shutterstock

There are some areas where there is no real “best” time to visit. Balmy temperatures and sunny skies mean these destinations are beautiful year-round. That doesn’t stop people from visiting them at a certain time, however. The concept of summer vacation is ingrained into many people’s calendars — even if the summer isn’t the best time to visit a place.

Barbados is a prime example. This island isn’t as popular as some of its Caribbean cousins, which makes it the more affordable option. That said, you’ll still get your share of wonderful beach weather even in the dead of winter.

Kris Wouk is a writer, musician and audio enthusiast who loves camping and hiking. You can find his work at MakeUseOf, MakeTechEasier, IoT Tech Trends, and various other places across the internet.

What Does It Really Mean to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?

The What

So what exactly is forbidden by the third commandment? The word vain (as it’s rendered in the ESV) can mean “empty,” “nothing,” “worthless,” or “to no good purpose.” We are forbidden, therefore, from taking the name of God (or taking up the name or bearing the name, as the phrase could be translated) in a manner that is wicked, worthless, or for the wrong purposes. This doesn’t mean that we have to avoid the divine name altogether. The name YHWH (or Yahweh)—“the Lord,” in most translations—appears some seven thousand times in the Old Testament. We don’t need to be superstitious about saying His name. But we must not misuse it.

The way to see God’s glory is to hear his name. To know the name YHWH, the merciful and gracious one, is not to merely know something about God; it is to know God himself.

The Old Testament identifies several ways in which the third commandment can be violated. Most obvious is to blaspheme or curse the name of God, which we saw already in Leviticus 24:16. But there’s more to the commandment than that. The third commandment also forbids empty or false oaths: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:12; cf. Hos. 10:4a). When you make a declaration, swearing by God’s name, it must not be a false promise or one you do not intend to keep.

The third commandment also prohibits false visions and false claims to speak on God’s behalf, for such prophets “prophesy lies in my name” (Jer. 23:25). Strangely enough, sacrificing one’s children to the false god Molech was considered a violation of the third commandment because it profaned the name of God (Lev. 18:21). The Israelites were to stone the man who sacrificed his children in this way. Failure to do so would allow for uncleanness to permeate the camp, thereby besmirching the name of the Lord, who dwelt in the midst of his people.

Similarly, to unlawfully touch the holy things was considered a violation of the third commandment. We read in Leviticus 22: “Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me so that they do not profane my holy name: I am the Lord” (v. 2). Likewise, the priests who cut corners in Malachi’s day were devaluing the name of God by their polluted offerings and cynical hearts (Mal. 1:10–14).

The Why

We’ve already seen that breaking the third commandment is considered a terribly serious sin, but why? There are only ten commandments, after all. Only ten words to summarize everything God wants from us by way of obedience. How did “watch your mouth” make the top ten? What’s the big deal about God’s name?

Think about Exodus 3 where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. Moses asks God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God replies with those famous words: “I am who I am. . . . Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:13–14). God names himself as the sovereign, self-existent one. In fact, the covenant name YHWH is probably connected to the Hebrew verb “to be.” God is that he is. That is his name.

We see the same thing in Exodus 33. Moses asks God to show him his glory. And in reply, God speaks to him his name: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’” (v. 19a). The way to see God’s glory is to hear his name. To know the name YHWH, the merciful and gracious one, is not to merely know something about God; it is to know God himself (Ex. 34:6–8). God shows himself by speaking his name.

Pastor and best-selling author Kevin DeYoung delivers critical truth about the Ten Commandments as he explains what they are, why we should know them, and how we should apply them today.

Our name is not tangential to our being. It marks us and identifies us. Over time, as people get to know us, our name embodies who we are. Think of someone whom you love deeply—your child, grandchild, parent, friend, or spouse. The name of that person represents more than markings on a page. When someone says the name Trisha, I am overcome with good thoughts, because I cannot separate my wife from her name. A whole flood of emotions, experiences, joys, and desires comes to me at the sight or sound of those six letters put together in that name.

Names are precious, which is why we don’t like our name ridiculed, twisted, or made fun of. I have a name that is fairly difficult to malign. With the middle name “Lee,” some people have called me “Heavenly Kevinly,” but that’s hardly an insult. The worst name to stick is the name my friends in seminary gave me. Although “DeYoung” is a common Dutch name, apparently it was unfamiliar in Massachusetts, because people there would meet me and think my last name was Dion. So to this day, my seminary friends call me Celine. Some friends! It’s the only nickname I’ve ever had. Not the best I could hope for, but my heart will go on.

But funny nicknames given to us is one thing; irreverent use of God’s name is another. Everywhere in Scripture, the name of the Lord is exalted in the highest possible terms. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1a). “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name” (Ps. 29:2a). The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). The apostles proclaimed that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul assured the Romans that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). And the culminating event in all of creation is when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). The Bible does not want us to forget the holy importance of the divine name.

Content adapted from The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them by Kevin DeYoung. Article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.

JUSTICE IN THE BOOK OF TITUS

BIBLE GATEWAY

Today’s reading is drawn from Titus 1-3.

The text of Titus is short; it is only forty-six verses. Nonetheless, the brevity of the text contrasts with the content’s depth, in particular from the perspective of what it teaches about God’s justice. In this epistle, justice is not a theoretical discourse to fire up heated philosophical and theological debates. On the contrary, justice is a value to be expressed practically in the life of the Christian community (1:5–16), in the personal behavior of family members (2:1–10) and in their behavior as citizens (3:1–8).

In his letter to Titus, Paul begins with instructions about the way the Christian community in Crete should be governed, establishing ministerial ranks and making sure that every position is filled with people of Christian character. He also indicates how to deal with people who, teaching erroneous ideas, cause divisions and disrupt harmony in the Christian community and even whole families. Such persons not only lead people astray with their doctrines, but also commercialize the gospel for their own benefit (1:10–11). Then comes the apostle’s central teaching: the opposite of false doctrines are not the correct theological declarations but rather unity and concrete social practices that promote (and are in themselves) God’s justice (2:11–13).

At the time Titus was written, Crete was apparently a prosperous island. Nonetheless, the Christian community included people who were left on the sidelines of that prosperity. Slaves, for example, who (amazingly enough), are now worshiping alongside their masters. This unprecedented breakdown of class distinctions could be the reason why the author insists on the need to do good works and to give testimony of God’s justice in concrete ways.

The major concern expressed in the letter is not combating the false doctrines that abounded in Crete. Nor is it the lack of orderly and respectable church leaders. The deepest concern Paul and Titus have is to challenge the Cretan church to give, through service, true testimony of its faith. For them, doing what is good is the crucial expression of the salvation found in Christ (3:7–8). When believers act with solidarity together, they are expressing their faith in a just God who has acted with love and mercy for everyone.

— Harold Segura Columbia, Costa Rica (Excerpted from the book introduction to Titus)

 

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