Choose Forgiveness or Swallow the Bitter Poison

There are two choices; forgive or grow bitter. There is no such word as “unforgiveness,” there is only forgiveness given or bitterness fostered. Remember anybody along the way that someone else said, “they are just a bitter old man?” Likely, if true, it’s because they chose not to forgive somewhere along the way.

Catch that? “Chose” not to forgive. Nothing about their feelings. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion; it’s a choice. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt; in fact, hurt is almost always present if/when forgiveness is called for. Forgiveness comes as a choice in the face of hurt. Or bitterness.

Bitterness is validated by justice. When considering what someone did which was hurtful or offensive, it is typically not difficult to formulate a solid strategy and monologue supporting their conviction. We all become trial attorneys. Based on our supporting evidence, we find you guilty and in fact, it’s often true. So the self-argued and self-decided guilty verdict results in a sentence of nothing for the other person and bitterness for us. Poison.

They offered Jesus the poison, the bitter gall, on the Cross. He could have taken it and it would have eased His pain but He didn’t swallow it. He wasn’t on the cross to get even; He was on the Cross to give grace. He wasn’t there to perpetuate justice; He was there to satisfy it. He chose instead, “Forgive them, Father . . . ”

Making the case and holding onto the offense is satisfying for a moment. It satisfies our soul’s desire for justice at the cost of our spirit’s need for grace. It fosters toxins that give us the illusion of vindication but actually starts the erosion of our character from the agitating effects of bitterness.

It’s not an emotion; you can’t wait until it feels better because it’s needed in triage at the diagnosis or hurt. In fact, that same choice to forgive may have to be made over and over through lingering hurt from a single offense. It may have to be multiplied 7 times 70 or so.

The best part is that you don’t really have to manufacture it; there is a Source that will give it to you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” gives us the “how to.” Remember and appropriate the grace that you have received and continue to need. Then, give it away to others.

Getting Out of Jail

When I was serving as a mentor in the youth prison system, one of the things that those teenage boys shared in common was that they had been (or were) members of gangs. We were in a small group discussion and there was a revelation for one of those young men when he said something like, “you know, I think I joined a gang because I wanted to feel loved. ”  What led him to that realization was that we were able to connect the dots of dysfunction he had experienced in his own family.

His family was a mess so he went to the gang to fulfill the voids left by a broken family. Being a member of a gang was a perverted fulfillment of a legitimate need.

On a different occasion, another young man shared about a time when he and his fellow gang members were preparing for a retaliatory drive by shooting against another gang. I stopped him and asked, “what does the preparation look like; sitting around with drugs and alcohol, talking about who would drive, who would sit where, who would carry which weapons, etc.?” He said that was about right.

I pressed in on this and tried for figure out why a 15 or 16-year-old would be driven to put themselves into harm’s way such as that. What was the motivator?

We went back and forth and ended up at purpose. They did it because they saw it as an extension of the purposes of the gang. They didn’t care about school or work, just gang business along with street credibility and reputation. When a gang threatened them, it threatened the community which facilitated their purpose. Purpose is a legitimate need and this was a perverted fulfillment of that need.

They are no different from the rest of us, really. The contrast of their perverted attempts to fulfill legitimate needs is more glaring than many of us experience. At the core, however, we are the same. There are things we need and if we buy into lies that lead to illegitimate attempts to fulfill legitimate needs, we end up in some form of trouble.

We will enjoy the consequences or benefits of whichever path we pursue. Where we pursue legitimate fulfillment through the One that designed us with the legitimate needs, we will know the benefits of satisfaction. Where we take shortcuts or detours, we will have to deal with the consequences.

Those young men were not serving life sentences and neither are we. Where we miss, we can change our minds. We don’t have to stay in the incarceration of our poor choices forever, but getting out of those internal prisons comes with the discipline of one day at a time. One day at a time, seeking Jesus where we have depended on our own form of gang to replace Him and His family.

We All Need to Get Suspended Sometimes

There is a controversial battle going on between an NFL star, Ezekiel Elliott, and the NFL right now. There were accusations against him from a former girlfriend that he had physically abused her. The accusations were investigated but no criminal charges were brought. The NFL, however, decided to conduct an independent investigation and ultimately suspended him for six games. Now there is a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to overturn that suspension.

From the information that is leaking out, the accuser had made threats of ruining and blackmailing him and there are apparently some real questions of her credibility. It’s swayed public opinion to lean in many cases to more of a benefit of the doubt for Elliott. What has come out in those same leaks, however, are some sordid details of a lifestyle that has been cruising towards trouble for some time.

Details regarding sex, drugs, abortion and an apparent embracing of a lifestyle that is out of control have emerged. Despite that apparent immorality, fans have begun to rally behind the running back in hopes that he not be suspended so that he can play without suspension. They want to watch him run and catch. They want to be entertained.

I’m an attorney and believe in due process. Evidence needs to be handled and processed correctly to ascertain an accurate picture of the truth. Without respect for the process, justice is compromised and order gives way to subjectivity and chaos. With that said, while conceding that all I know about this is through the media, it appears that Ezekiel Elliott might need to be suspended for Ezekiel Elliott’s sake, if nothing else.

Consequences are the best thing that can happen to us when we are living in patterns of destructive behavior that are not the intention of our design. Consequences quicken our awareness of our humanity and potentially open us to the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance. Getting caught or frustrated in our detours help us put things back on track. We need the order and justice of authority to avoid the downward spiral of rebellion and immorality.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the legal case, suspension, rushing yards, etc. of this 22-year-old young man. I do know, that the appetites and choices of most young men will lead us towards our own harm if we aren’t accountable for those behaviors that will ultimately hurt us and hurt others. We all need to get caught, whether by circumstantial evidence or an airtight case. If not, we are all prone towards the detours that keeps us from our destiny. We all need a suspension sometimes, to keep us from running further and further off the tracks.

The Solution to Pornography

love-partnership-friends-friendship-connectionI wrote the other day how pornography is driven by a need for intimate connection, not sexual desire. Men (and women, in some cases) that get stuck in the short-term trap of the physical escape from an emotional and spiritual need spiral into greater frustration. The need for intimacy is legitimate and God breathed. It’s part of our design. It’s part of God’s plan. We are wired to connect.

That design for connection, however, is primarily and fundamentally satisfied with the One that put it in us. The essence of that design is for communion with the Father. It’s the restoration of sons and daughters to the love of the Father. When we know His love, we know our purpose and walk in the satisfaction of intimate fulfillment.

A mistake that married couples make when addressing the intrusion of pornography in their marriage is thinking that it’s about sex. The wife feels inadequate. Even if they take the next step and realize it’s not about sex, but instead it’s about intimacy, the burden of source can be misplaced. The wife is not intended as the husband’s source any more than the husband is intended as the wife’s source.

There is only one Source, and it’s the One that designed our for need connection to the Source. Only the love of the Father fulfills the need for love. Spiritual connection leads to spiritual fulfillment which leads to emotional satisfaction. We are filled by Him to give out to others.

In a marriage, intimacy fulfilled by the Father fills each one up to give to the other. The husband can’t expect the wife to satisfy what was designed to be satisfied by the One who created the need. In the same way, neither can the wife expect that of the husband. That’s co-dependency and even idolatry. If we promote someone to a place that God is intended to sit in our lives, they become gods in those areas of our lives. Not good.

The Source of satisfaction for the legitimate need for intimacy fills us to walk in our purpose as sons and daughters of Him. We have plenty to give from the abundance of eternity, not the temporal limitation of human effort. Wives can’t fix husbands that are disconnected, nor vice versa. Agreement together, the two as one, can bring the power of oneness to the pursuit of the One.

Sin is a twist or substitute to a legitimate need. Intimacy is a legitimate need. To avoid the traps of the cheap substitute, plug into the One that fulfills the need. If there is a life pattern of shortcuts that have become habitual and even addictive, agreement in transparency about the actual need, solution and openness about the struggle are the best way to get beyond the problem.

The Problem Behind Pornography

shamePornography is an illegitimate method of fulfilling a legitimate need and the legitimate need isn’t what we think it is. Pornography isn’t about sex because the need isn’t that shallow. The legitimate need is a need for intimacy. The connection, fulfillment, satisfaction and depth of intimacy gets hijacked by the perverted shortcut of pornography.

There is an epidemic surrounding the use of pornography and it’s much more destructive than many realize. The darkness of isolated dives into depraved imaginations brings shame and further isolation. The secrecy surrounding and perceived rejection from the double life of pornography damages legitimate relationship and frustrates God’s intention for transparent connection.

Once the cycle begins, the downward spiral is inviting. The release of chemicals in the brain consistent with the release that occurs from cocaine use provides a short-term high. As the short-term thrill gives way to lasting shame, the trap is set. That brief euphoric escape requires increasing stimulus to supersede the familiarity that comes with previous experience. In other words, what used to be exciting has to be enhanced to cause the same stir. Dark gets darker.

The escape, however, isn’t into sex because it isn’t sex. It really doesn’t have much of anything to do with sex. It’s an escape from a lack of intimacy that feels like pain, emptiness, disconnection, isolation and frustration. It’s triggered by things such as stress, lack of control, emotional immaturity and other limitations of the soul remedied with a shortcut of the flesh.

This is a critical realization for married couples wanting to walk out of a grip of pornography. If the wife holds onto the hurt of a lie, she won’t be able to partner with her husband who may be willing to break the cycle. The lie that many wives would believe is that they are rejected or found inadequate physically. The reality of an emotional and spiritual void that may have nothing to do with her is the real driver.

Here is the good news; when a married couple is impacted by pornography, the reality is that both husband and wife actually want the same thing. They both want legitimate emotional and spiritual connection for the fulfillment of satisfaction that comes with intimate relationship. The disconnect isn’t her fault; it’s his problem (in cases where it’s the man jammed up in pornography which are still the majority).

With agreement regarding the problem and avoidance of the hurt that comes with the accusation of perceived rejection, the two can agree. He can be honest about when and if he is tempted to isolate and escape. She can support without ownership of the cause to the effect. While it’s still difficult and dark, the clarity of a target facilities hope for healing.

Heading Home

landscape-large-house-and-driveway_w580_h373All we have to do is start. Without starting, we’ll never get there. Hope will fade with the delay of change. Things can change, we can improve, glory can increase, but not stuck in the muck of yesterday’s choices.

We believe what we choose. We can say we believe in the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit but if we actually believe, our choices will reflect that declaration. Belief isn’t about our knowledge, it’s about our will. Reliance on something other than us reflects belief in Someone bigger than us. Information about that same Someone doesn’t equate to belief reflected in trust and manifest in choices.

Where there is sin and the consequences of sin in our lives, things can get better if we’ll stop acting on the same things that landed us in those places of depravity. Repentance requires a turn and a step, not just a passive acceptance that there is a better way. Repentance requires the orphan to step back towards the Father.

When we have been born again, the Holy Spirit is testifying with our spirits that we are His kids and He loves us. If we’ll start back towards Him, the testimony of God’s love for us from the inside out will flood our souls. In our most tangible, external choices of behavior, the decision to start back towards God where we have excluded Him set us on a  collision course to know His love.

As we change our will and He testifies with our spirit, His love is flooding from our spirit and over our soul to collide within us. The transformation of the prodigal is internal, not external. and the homecoming welcome party is love, joy and peace in our mind, will and emotions. We can enjoy His grace and acceptance every time we start back as He meets us at the end of the driveway.

The story of the prodigal isn’t about our college years, it’s day-to-day as we consider the areas of our beliefs that still rely on us over Him. It’s the working out of our salvation from within us as we change the choices manifested outside of us. As we remember how good it was when we met Him and how faithful He has been every other time we returned home, we change our mind and head home again.