forgiveness

Do the Right Thing

A person thinks everything he does is right,

but the Lord weighs hearts.

Doing what is right and fair

is more acceptable to the Lord than offering a sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-8 GW)


The time is always right to do what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr

Every year, as our nation observes the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a flurry of his quotes fill social media posts, news media, and speeches. As with many statements these days, these quotes are expressed outside of their original context.

Oberlin College Archives

Oberlin College Archives

The quote above is a statement Dr King made at Oberlin College in October of 1964. The thought of this statement permeates much of what he spoke and wrote about integration and civil rights.

The context of these words are the life and calling of Dr King—a Baptist preacher and the son of a Baptist preacher. The 50’s and 60’s were a tumultuous time in America. It was not empty rhetoric but truth grounded in the reality of his time.

Doing the right thing is a common theme throughout the Proverbs. It’s a common tenet of good business ethics and basic morality. However, what the right thing is depends on a person’s belief system, values, and cultural influences.

Each of us can be convinced of our own rightness but our words and actions in life need to be consistent within our daily lives. Otherwise, it’s a matter of saying one thing but living out something different. Then, what we claim as rightness is out of context with who we are.

A sense of our own rightness soon becomes self-righteousness—our own narrow view of right and wrong. This extends beyond religious self-righteousness and permeates every aspect of our life. It becomes an attitude of the heart.

Self-righteousness sets us up to be judgmental and prejudiced toward others

This narrow view of rightness produces a judgmental view of others and a sense of superiority towards those who don’t measure up to our sense of righteousness—our view of what’s true, right, and fair.

When self-righteousness goes unchecked it isolates a person from those deemed inferior in their religion, thinking politics, behavior, associations with others, and so on.

The only counter to self-rightness is humility—a sense of who we are in comparison to God rather than others.

God knows our heart. He knows our motives. He alone is able to judge in a true and just way and He is by nature merciful (Exo 34:6; Luke 6:36).

When we see our own sense of rightness in light of God’s mercy, we can be freed from a judgmental and prejudiced heart.

True humility can set us free from a self-righteous heart

Instead of the narrow view of self-righteousness—that no one can measure up to including us—humility sets us free to do what is right and fair. This is what is acceptable to God rather than any self-righteous attitude or effort on our part.

How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold. Is it our own or God’s? Do we measure our own sense of rightness in comparison to others or God?

Reflection—

No one can measure up to the narrow and judgmental perspective of self-righteousness. This include our self no matter how right we think we are. How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold—our own or God’s—and He alone is just and merciful.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself looking down at others as inferior and wrong, ask God to give you His perspective on others—how He sees them and us. When you find a self-righteous attitude welling up in your mind and heart, humble yourself and ask God to forgive you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Keep the Floodgate Closed

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,

but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate,

so stop before the argument gets out of control.

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. (Proverbs 17:9, 14, 19a GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:7-20 GW)


Ever notice how much easier it is to start an argument than to end one? Most arguments are based on a difference of opinion with both parties insisting on their own rightness. The assumption is made that one side is right while the other is wrong, which isn’t necessarily true.

This can be seen in the typical news or sports talk shows where one or more people state their case against the view of another. The back and forth goes on and on till a moderator steps in as a referee.

Most of these arguments amount to straw man arguments based on opinion rather than facts. Oftentimes, knowledge about the topic is limited or unknown but this doesn’t stop people from arguing their point. They state conjectures and opinions as if they were facts.

A classic example—one that hits home, literally—is what I call the domestic discussion. Arguments between husbands and wives are typically the opinions and feelings of one spouse versus the other. The “facts” are various reasons for claiming rightness about an issue, often at the expense of the other.

I’ll joke with people that, “If my wife would just realize I’m right, we wouldn’t argue!” Of course, that’s the point. I assume I’m right and she’s wrong.

Some of our arguments have gone on and on to the point we forget what started it. We’ve even found ourselves laughing at how silly it is to be arguing, if we’re not too emotionally invested in our own rightness.

This is exactly the point of these verses—

Photo by  Felix Koutchinski  on  Unsplash

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.

The purpose of a floodgate is to hold back a flood of water. When torrential rains threaten to break a dam, a floodgate or spillway may be temporarily opened to relieve some pressure. But this is a drastic and temporary measure that could lead to a greater flood.

When someone—a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or whoever—continues to bring up an issue already discussed, a full-fledged argument is inevitable.

This doesn’t resolve issues or offenses, it produces a separation between people. Forgiveness—an act of mercy rather than judgment—is the way to resolve and repair relational separation.

Forgiveness is an act of love.

On the other hand, a person—such as you or me—who continues to quarrel and bring up old offenses indicates selfishness rather than willingness to forgive and love to restore a relationship.

Better to stop than start an argument. But how?

When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right, we’ll stop arguments that lead to broken relationships.

When our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit of being right, even those domestic discussions won’t get out of control so easy and there’ll be a lot less crying and yelling.

So, it’s up to us what we pursue. If we choose to quarrel, we’ll open a floodgate we can’t easily close. But when we pursue forgiveness and love, we’ll keep the floodgate closed.

Reflection—

It’s better to stop arguments than start them. When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right and our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit at being right, we’ll stop a lot of arguments that lead to broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself stirred up enough to argue a point or insist on your own rightness, take a step back in your mind and heart and pray for God to help you pursue forgiveness and love rather than your own rightness.

©Word-Strong_2018


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An Exposed Heart

If Sheol and Abaddon lie open in front of the Lord

how much more the human heart! (Proverbs 15:11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:8-19 GW)


I’ve often wondered why people subject themselves to the public scrutiny of reality shows. Is it just for the money? Much of the time, some not-so glamorous moments in people’s lives are laid out for all to see. That is, all who watch.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of reality shows. The few times I’ve endured watching them for a while, I find myself cringing and shaking my head at what I see.

I don’t like having my life exposed for everyone to see. People are too quick to draw their own conclusions—often jumping to unfounded judgments of reasons and motives.

Having a somewhat public life as a pastor and overseas missionary, I’ve experienced some unwanted exposure of my life and endured some unfair and unwarranted criticism and condemnation.

It’s part of the territory for those roles in ministry but it can still be difficult to endure. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but it doesn’t mean those opinions are right or true or valid.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years—there’s always more to the story. More importantly, whenever anyone of us sits in judgment of others, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

There’s not one person on earth who hasn’t sat in judgment on another. All of us do it in some way and to some degree.

We look askance at people for what they wear or don’t wear. How they talk or look or act. People judge each other for what they eat or don’t eat, the music they like or don’t like, their politics, favorite sports team, and what they watch or won’t watch on TV.

What catches my attention about all this is how exposed my heart is before God. Nothing is hidden from Him. Nothing.

It’s not just my heart that’s exposed to God, it’s every human heart. Yours and mine.

Several places in the New Testament scriptures, including the words of Jesus in the Gospels, tell us there will be a judgment to come of all people at the end of the age. None of us now when that will be exactly but it is certain.

Even Sheol and Abaddon—death and destruction—are not hidden from God. After all, He is eternal.

You won’t be seeing me in any reality shows any time soon—not if I have anything to say about it! But even if my life isn’t displayed for all to see, I know the Lord sees everything in my heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This humbles me when I consider it. The psalmist David says this eloquently in Psalm 139—here’s an excerpt—

You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away. You watch me when I travel and when I rest. You are familiar with all my ways.

Even before there is a ⌊single⌋ word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You are all around me—in front of me and in back of me. (Psa 139:2-5 GW)

I try to keep this awareness fresh in my mind. When I remember my heart is exposed before God, it helps me avoid sliding into any judgment seat. And when I find myself sitting in His seat, I sense God’s Spirit whispering to my heart that I’m not where I ought to be.

Reflection—

All of us have judged someone in some way and to some degree. Whenever we do, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

Prayer Focus—

Join me as I daily, even moment by moment, ask God to keep me from judging others and asking Him to forgive me when I do.

©Word-Strong_2018


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An Antidote for Hate

Hate starts quarrels,

but love covers every wrong. (Proverbs 10:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:1-12 GW)


The book of Proverbs begins with personalized encouragements, admonitions, and instruction from a father to a son. The first 9 chapters also include parables that contrast wisdom with foolishness in general.

But starting in Chapter 10, various topics are addressed more specifically—mostly with contrasting couplets and comparisons. Proverbs 10:12 is a great example of contrasting statements very relevant to our present time. Here it is in another version—

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Prov 10:12 NIV)

Hatred is defined in various ways—extreme dislike, disgust, ill will, resentment, prejudiced hostility, animosity—you get the idea.

Hate is often expressed by finding fault or projecting blame or making false accusations. Sound familiar? There's way too much of that going around! Regardless of its motivation or source—it stirs up strife...conflict...quarrels...even war.

Hatred doesn't have to run too deep to accomplish this. Think of the many times "I hate you!" is hurled by one person at another. It's pretty common among siblings in childish fits of anger and all too common between spouses. Sadly, I know this from experience.

But love is a powerful antidote for hate!

We have historical examples of love "covering" hate—Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and of course, Jesus who said this as He's crucified—Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

But examples are only valuable to us if we learn from them and follow what they model. These couplets of wisdom are intended to be useful and practical for daily life. How can we apply this bit of practical wisdom?

The next time someone throws some flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words. Don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

It will take some practice but it could change the world—at least your own sphere of it. Who knows, if enough of us keep extending love for hate, the world just might change much faster than you or I can imagine—one opportunity at a time, one relationship at a time.

Reflection—

When someone throws flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words—don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Prayer is much needed to extend love for hate in the process of daily life, so ask for God's help often—even throughout the day. The Lord is an expert at extending grace and mercy and love to people who don't deserve it—people like you and me.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Great, Compassionate and Good

Fame is fleeting. It does not last. Even notoriety fades quickly, especially in our day of instant media notifications—regardless if it's true or false.

As generations come and go, what was once great or sensational is forgotten. One of many reasons history repeats itself.