Lessons in Forgiveness

Lessons in Forgiveness

Today is my ex-wife’s birthday.

Normally, I would not make mention of it on my blog (even though we have a good, cordial relationship), but she’s been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, she was very helpful last week following my car accident. She was genuinely and sincerely concerned, and she took care of our Max so Lee could focus on taking care of me post-accident.

Secondly, I was reading my Bible plan this morning and came across Matthew 18. Verses 21 – 22 read:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

There is a reason my ex-wife is my ex, and I am that reason. Sparring the detail, I will say I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness in the nearly fourteen years since our marriage ended, and I’ve learned it mostly by watching her.

She always put our kids first, even when perhaps it meant swallowing some pride in public. She was always gracious and polite, even when perhaps her inclination was to punch me in the face.

I’ve grown leaps and bounds since beginning my faith walk anew in 2009, but looking back, I can see my ex-wife’s actions toward me in the years preceding 2009 laid the foundation for my walk with Christ. For what is more Christian than being extended forgiveness when you least deserve it?


Happy birthday, Ale. Thank you for being the best mother to our children that I could ever hope for. Thank you for maintaining your generous heart when I gave you a reason not to. Thank you for showing me what it means to model Christ with your actions. I owe you so much more than I can ever say with mere words.

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Seek Truth

Seek Truth

Tonight Lee and I joined our friends Jeff and Ellen for a Bible study at their church. Pastor Matthew Hartsfield is leading a group through the study of the Gospel of John. In tonight’s session we covered John 8:12-58, however, we spent time focusing on verses 31-32.

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NLT)

I cannot begin to do justice to Pastor Matthew’s excellent explanation of these two verses, but I will attempt to summarize it in this way. If you are a non-believer or someone who’s proverbially kicking the tires of faith, instead of trying to seek and understand Jesus, perhaps it’s best if you simply work to seek the truth. By seeking what is true, it is only natural to review what it is in our lives that is false.

Time and again, people who’ve been skeptics and cynics of Christianity have found themselves becoming believers in their pursuit disproving our faith. We saw it with C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity and again with Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ.

The freedom mentioned in verse 32 is the freedom from the guilt, shame, and burden that weighs us down in life. It’s the freedom that comes through reconciliation through Christ. It’s the freedom of knowing our lives will extend into eternity because we place our faith in the Son of God.

Wherever you are in life, be it an atheist or a Biblical scholar, the Bible is God’s personal love letter to you. It is His revelation to you of His plan for your life. It is an invitation to fill your life with joy by focusing on His Word. And when you share that Spirit-filled life with others in community (i.e. church), then life is made more complete.

 

 

Matthew Hartsfield
Pastor Matthew Hartsfield

 

 

 

One Step At A Time

One Step At A Time

The first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides who, according to legend, ran approximately 25 miles from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens to announce the defeat of the Persians in 490 B.C.

I used to run. I used to love running. I hope to pick up running once again. However, getting into a routine of running takes discipline. Building up the necessary endurance to run a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, etc. requires discipline and a plan. For many, it also requires a support structure.

As an example, for me to get back into shape for running a 5K will require an aerobic base building routine that includes a run/walk plan. An acceptable first week of training is 20 to 30 minutes total of jogging/running/walking three times a week. By contrast, ultra-marathoners (those who run 100-mile events), have insane training regiments. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to be an ultra-marathoner (or regular marathoner for that matter). It takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes patience.

The same is true for being a Christ follower.

I admire those who’ve devoted a lifetime to serving God and sharing His glory with others. For me, the standard-bearer is John Piper. His site, Desiring God, is a fountain of learning and inspiration. I began my faith journey anew in the summer of 2009, and it’s such a blessing to be able to look back on the last eight and half years and recognize how much I’ve grown. I also look forward knowing I have a lifetime of growth yet to come.

I’ve also had conversations with others who are kicking the tires of faith or new to being in a relationship with Christ. I’ve been told they look at me as a model of what it means to be a Christian, and as flattering and humbling as that is, I remind them of how I still have a long way to go. Yet, I appreciate the comment, and I once again make the analogy to running. I am somewhere in the 5K to 10K stage of my spiritual activity, yet my eyes are set on the ultra-marathoning John Piper’s of the world, hoping I can one day come close to reaching those levels. By contrast, others find themselves on the couch, trepidatious about lacing up their Jesus shoes and starting a walk with Him.

What this all comes down to is that as we enter the season of resolutions and newfound resolve, I pray you give yourself the requisite patience and time to grow in your relationship with Christ. If you’re new to the faith, please know being a Christ follower is not easy. Accepting Jesus into your heart does not mean your life instantly becomes care-free. Instead, it means you can walk with confidence knowing God will provide.

The activation of the Holy Spirit within you is instant, but it will take years of spiritual and scriptural training to see the transformative change He provides. This means making reading the Word part of your plan. This means making service to others part of your plan. This means re-evaluating the priorities in your life. It’s a process – a sometimes grueling process – but one that yields rewards on both sides of eternity.

“He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT


PostScript: I realized after having written this post I wrote basically the same post back in April of 2016. I try not to regurgitate material, and I apologize for the oversight.

CTRL+Z

CTRL+Z

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why?
How would it change who you are now?


I’m a technology geek. It’s partly a result of working in IT for the last twenty-two years. If you’re not familiar with the keyboard command that is the title of this post, CTRL+Z is how you ‘undo’ a command on most computer applications.

Copied and pasted text into the wrong section of your term paper? CTRL+Z. Deleted the wrong graphic from the presentation that’s due in ninety minutes? CTRL+Z. Realized you applied the wrong formula to your financial spreadsheet? Well, CTRL+Z won’t help you there, but whiskey will.

ctrlz

But in all seriousness, today’s prompt is asking what moment in my life I’d most like to CTRL+Z. I wrote last week that I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are healthful experiences that, when you step back and look at the fabric of life, allow us to progress as a civilization. I know that’s a weighty statement, but it’s one I find to be true.

There is nothing wrong with making a mistake so long as we learn from it, and in my life I have made many mistakes and I have lots of regrets. Not every mistake has lead to a Disney-esque lesson learned, and not every regret has been life-altering in the direction of betterment. Still, when I look at the road map of decisions that have brought me to where I am today, I see some glaring moments at which I could’ve been better, as well as some ‘what if’ bubbles that rob me of sleep from time to time.

To deliberately sound cliché, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I am experiencing my current life because of God’s divine grace, and because of the decisions, both good and bad, I made over the years. The pattern being; when I was prayerful and surrendered my burdens to Christ, I was blessed with good decision making. In those times I stepped away from God and tried to do life on my own terms, the bonehead moments were plentiful.

Yet our human nature, one that is sinful and proud, which by extension makes us innately greedy for comfort and ease, enjoys harping on those times in our past that slowly eat away at us. It’s the enemy whispering in our ear, “if only” or “what if.” We can’t undo the past, but God can undo our sins. In fact, He already has through His son Jesus Christ. All we have to do is ask Him to forgive us.

So as easy as it would be to say I wish I could undo that time in my life when I had an affair that cost me my first marriage, I use that experience in order to be a better husband in my current marriage. When I think about how I wish I would have been less hard on my kids, I allow myself to feel pride at how wonderful and respectful my children, now young adults, are. That homeless person I ignored on the street out of some meritless sense of fear? I let it serve as a reminder that fear is not from God and that I should be a badass like Jesus was.

If we could undo those moments that make us feel pain and regret, how could we possibly grow as human beings? And if we had no pain and regret, how could we appreciate the beauty that is the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We put too much focus on the CTRL+Z when we should be putting all our effort into the CTRL+S.


nablopomo

Persevering Through Him and For Him

Persevering Through Him and For Him

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

Which one of the Beatitudes is most meaningful to you and why? 


In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not the prompt for November 7 for #NaBloPoMo16. Today’s prompt (What was your worst Thanksgiving food fail?) was a bit on the yawn side, so my wife Lee and I decided to go with our own prompt for our blog posts.

Lee and I started on our respective faith walks together back in 2009. One week after getting married, we began attending Relevant Church in Tampa. Relevant has been our home ever since, and I cannot properly express how much each of us have grown over the last seven years.

Walking in faith and with Christ has transformed our lives. It’s changed the way we give, the way we vacation, and it’s most definitely changed the way we plan for the future (Lee and I hope to transition to full-time mission work in the next three to four years). As someone whose been blogging since 2004, my faith has also changed the way I write.

So it was no surprise when Lee suggested we write about the Beatitudes. Writing in a non-secular arena has become second nature to both of us, and it allows us to explore our relationship with Christ from a different perspective. It’s one thing to share your faith story with someone verbally. After all, we all speak in rough draft. But when you’re writing, you have the ability to edit, research, ponder, and – when you’re really stuck – delete.

delete-button

I love writing about my faith, and I see it as a part of my current vocation. I view it as an opportunity to use the gift God has given me as a writer to bring glory to Him and to bring others closer to Christ. I can only pray that someone who is seeking His love and mercy may stumble across my blog and use it as a vehicle to grow closer to God.

But written ministry is not always about ‘Likes’ and positive feedback in the comments section. There is an inherent risk of not applying sound theology in my work. There is a risk of alienating someone because my understanding and belief in Scripture contradicts their personal worldview. From a broader perspective, there is always a risk in sharing Christ with others because there are so many questions people may have, so many arguments skeptics may make, and so many allusions cynics may cast. In layman’s terms, it ain’t always easy.

It’s not supposed to be easy.

We are called to press forward in faith. We are called not only to step, but to leap out of our comfort zones for the benefits of others. We’re called to go out on a limb for Christ because he suffered and died on a limb for us.

Dealing with people who for whatever reasons reject God and belief and religion can, at best, be awkward and clumsy. At worst, it can be downright painful. As an example, my wife and I struggled to answer this simple question early in our faith walk:

“You mean if I live a good life and am a good person, that’s not enough to get into Heaven?”

Lee and I knew what the right answer is (it’s no, by the way*), but we didn’t know how to properly communicate it. We weren’t well versed in Scripture (we still aren’t really; it’s a daily process), and we fumbled our way through a conversation that quickly evolved into an argument. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, and at the end of it all we lost a friendship. Still, we knew in our hearts we wanted to/needed to stay true to His Word, and we used that experience as a foundation to work and be better prepared for the next tough question that was sure to come.

In the three and a half years since that moment, I like to think we’ve stayed true to that commitment. So when I read the Beatitudes and get to the eighth and final one – Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – it strikes a chord in my heart. Part of evangelizing the Word God is giving the love and then taking the lumps others may give in return.

It’s not supposed to be easy, but it does get a little easier every time.

 

*I firmly believe it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are granted salvation. This is repeated throughout Scripture.
     John 3:16
     John 14:6
Acts 16:30-31
Romans 6:23
Romans 10:9-10
Ephesians 2:8-9


nablopomo

Faith Run

I hate running. I love it, but I hate it. In a lot of ways, it’s like writing. The best way of saying it is, I enjoy the feeling of having run, but I do not enjoy the actual running itself.

I was a pretty decent runner in high school. I could run a 5k in under 17 minutes, and I was a relatively big fish in a very small pond. I stopped running when I went to college. I was not competitive against the opponents I faced. Instantly, I was a very small fish in very giant ocean. It was disheartening. It was demoralizing. It was defeating.

Running at Tulane University, soooooo many pounds ago.
Running at Tulane University, soooooo many pounds ago.

Fast forward twenty-five years and my desire to keep a promise I made to myself when I turned forty; to run a marathon by the time I am forty-five. So after sitting on that life goal for almost three years, I decided last Fall to start running again.

Did I mention I hate running?

In high school, I had a lot less mass on my frame to hold me down. Six-minute miles are easier to run when you’re susceptible of being knocked over by a strong gust of wind. Today, I have a more intimate relationship with gravity, and downward force is significantly less compatible with forward momentum. In summary, it’s a challenge to find the joy of running compared to pressing through the pain of running. But there are moments, in my experience, when there is the right mix of endorphins and environment that allow that joy of running to come to the surface.

When I picked up running again last Fall, my goal was to run in the Gasparilla 5K in February. I installed the Couch to 5K app on my phone, and it was the perfect trainer for getting in shape to go literally from no running to completing a 3.1 mile race.

When you start out with CT5K, the initial workouts are simple: A five minute warm-up (brisk walk), run for one minute, walk for a minute and a half, repeat over twenty minutes, and conclude with a five minute cool down. Looking back, that workout seems so simple, but it was quite the challenge when I started.

As the workouts progress over the weeks, you get to a point where the run is a ten minute run. I remember the first time I reached that point, and how I thought to myself there was absolutely no way I could continuously run for ten minutes. This morning, I ran the longest I’ve run since the Bush administration (Senior, not Dubya). Four miles, fifty-one minutes, no stopping. Again, looking back to mid-December when I was starting my CT5K program, the idea of running for nearly an hour without stopping seemed – no, WAS – impossible.

After having put in the initial work, grinding the first and second gears of the process, I can set out for longer distances and quicker mile splits. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. I was dying when I finished that fourth mile. My hips were aching. My calves were on fire. My breathing could’ve probably landed me a job on a 900-line. I was exhausted and I was in pain, but I did it.

Nike+

And this is almost exactly paralleled with the faith journey I began anew in 2009. I look back and see the growth I’ve experienced in my relationship with Christ since Lee and I began attending Relevant Church the week after we returned from our honeymoon. I look at some of the spiritual challenges I faced transitioning from a ‘completed Catholic’ to someone attending a non-denominational Christian church. I think about some of the the theological hurdles I had to clear in the early days of my new journey, and how easy they appear to me now even though they were really hard at the time.

It’s a process. It takes time.

longroad

I still face theological challenges and areas of growth in my faith. This is especially true since I am a student in Bible College. However, I am better equipped to face them. It can be said I am more ‘fit’ to address these challenges than I was seven years ago. Sermon after sermon, chapter after chapter, verse after verse, mile after mile; we build on the experiences we choose to undertake, even when some of those experiences are not so good along the way.

If you’re new to your faith, remember it’s okay to walk where others are running. If you’re a marathoner with Christ, remember that most of us are still working on building our spiritual endurance. But wherever you may find yourself on your faith journey, take pride in the fact that your on your way. Rejoice in the knowledge God loves you, and He is always by your side.

“Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.” – Philippians 2:16 NLT

Being There

These last several weeks have had me reassessing the relationships in my life. My wife’s surgery left her physically limited for a period of time, but it brought us closer together as a result. My kids spending an entire week with me full time as their mother was out of town allowed me to appreciate anew the young adults they’ve become, and how much I cherish my time with them. Throw in the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s been, for the most part, a re-evaluation of the priority people in my life.

I received from a dear friend a copy of the notes she took at church leadership meeting, and many of them have hit home in terms of this season in which I find myself. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Life is not measured by collection but connection.
  • Fullness only comes from connected relationships.
  • No matter how much potential my device has, if it goes dead, it’s worthless.
  • A church can be full of people, but without chargers, the church is dead.
  • We don’t have to be perfect. We aren’t the charge.
  • God only wants to know if you’d be willing to be a cord, to connect people.
  • God uses us broken folks to connect those needing His power.
  • What a blessing to be able to connect with someone from our own vulnerable places. He isn’t looking for us to be the solution, just the connection.

I know I am far from perfect, and my life is a continuous journey in search of daily betterment. In looking back on the road I’ve traveled, I clearly see the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve leaned along the way. More importantly, I see they are not without value and opportunity. My mess ups serve as an example and reminder to others that through God’s grace, we can overcome the weight in our lives, a weight that oftentimes seems insurmountable.

God uses us broken folks to connect those needing His power.

I was at dinner recently with my cousin and her husband. They were in town visiting, and we had the chance to sit together and get caught up on life. As we started going back to stories from our respective pasts, we realized there was so much about each other we didn’t know. We were connecting new dots in the fabric of our relationship, and helping each other as a result. My pains and anguishes from the past help put into perspective some struggles they were facing, and vice versa. We were there for each other, connected in God’s presence, learning from His plan for all of us.

It was no accident that happened. I’ve always maintained that coincidence is God showing off, and God wanted us to come together in that moment to connect, to be a resource to one another in terms of how we overcome the challenges in our lives. The answer, of course, is His love and mercy. Still, we need to be reminded of that. We need to be able to rediscover that truth in our lives, and we do it by connecting with others; by being there for those we love and allowing them to be there for us in return.

What a blessing to be able to connect with someone from our own vulnerable places. He isn’t looking for us to be the solution, just the connection.

Your challenges, your experiences, your struggles; they not only make you stronger, they allow for the opportunity of someone else to make it through their tough time. Don’t be too proud to share with someone else the crap you’ve been through. After all, when going through a storm, no one wants to hear about someone else’s perfect beach vacation. They want to be reminded the tempest is temporary. They want to feel connected to something real. They need to be recharged to life and His word. Don’t be afraid to be that connection for them.

Storm

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)