Forgiving the Guy Who Stole My Stuff

My car was broken into last week.

I don’t know if you have ever had anything stolen from you… but man it stinks.  Debit card.  Credit cards.  Driver’s license.  Cash.  Cell Phone.  iPad.  All taken.  Ugh.

Sure there was the sinking and dreadful feeling of being violated… but to be honest I was more upset at myself for making the mistake of falling asleep on the couch and leaving one of my windows cracked about three inches.

I sat on the couch that entire Saturday trying to make sense of what had happened. I had never had anything stolen from me in my life, nor had I ever had a greater offense against me.

For that I am incredibly grateful.

While so many people have been violated in so many different ways, I am very fortunate that this is the worst offense to which I have been subjected. Believe me… I don’t take that blessing for granted. Not for a second.

But it is in situations like this when I believe that our initial gut reaction to being violated (no matter the circumstance) is to immediately direct our anger and hostility toward the person (or people) who have caused the violation. And the temptation is to label and stereotype the person (or people) rather than to see them rightly as children of God who have become sadly disillusioned and who are in desperate need of forgiveness and the heart-transforming love of Christ.

One may certainly believe that it is easier (and may make one feel better) to say about the offender in anger:

He’s probably some junkie.

He’s probably trash.

He probably came from a good-for-nothing family.

He’s probably a lazy low-life.

He’s probably been a deadbeat his entire life.

But I would argue that… if even for a second… any one of us really truly believes that every single person in this world is a beautiful and valuable child of God (even and especially those who victimize and harm us)… we ought to see our offenders differently. And then consequently… we ought to treat our offenders differently.

Right on.

For those of us who follow the way of Jesus Christ…

For those of us who have been called on to be the embodiment and extenders of peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and self-sacrificial love…

For those of us who bear witness to the value and inherent worth of every single human being…

And for those of us whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God to see reality anew- the possibility of individuals and relationships being mended and springing with life, opportunity, and hope…

We recognize that our battle is not against human beings… but rather against adversarial forces that work in and through human beings to create war, division, bitterness, animosity, retaliation, and hatred.

We recognize that these same adversarial forces are at work to isolate, label, minimize, tear apart, devalue, and dehumanize human beings with the ultimate goal of complete hopelessness and destruction.

And we will not take part in continuing the endless cycle of death and destruction.  Not with what we think.  Not with what we say.  Not with what we do.

Instead we will bring light into the darkness. We will bless those who curse us.
We will retaliate only with grace and peace and forgiveness and love when offended or assaulted.
And we will give even the shirts off of our backs to those who have already taken what we have.

Because the way of Christ and his kingdom is the most humanizing reality this world has ever experienced. It is this way that treats others as they were created to be treated- as fully human, fully and unconditionally loved by God… with unsurpassing worth, value, and dignity.

And to my offender… that is precisely what I want you to experience.  And that is significantly different than what you made me experience on Saturday morning.

But to that end… and in response to your offense brother… I forgive you.

You are so much more than what you have believed or what others have told you about yourself.

You are not a degenerate.
You are not trash or garbage.
You are not a loser.

You are a valuable, worthy son of God.

There is no depth to which God’s mercy does not reach.

There is no length to which God’s love is not willing to pursue.

And there is no single person that God would ever turn away who returns with a humble and contrite heart.

That includes you.

For the Father always welcomes home the prodigal son with open arms and a celebration.

The truth is that every single prodigal has a choice as to how he will respond to his particular situation.

Will you continue to run away and squander your life? Or, will you come back to the open arms of the Father and take part in the celebration?

I am praying for the latter.

That you may begin to see clearly.
That that your heart would be wholly changed and transformed.
And that God would direct your path to righteousness so that we might celebrate your return home together.

peace brother…

brandon

Marriage

We do not enter into a marriage as an obligation, as something that has to be done.  We do not enter into a marriage for the sake of the ritual or ceremony.  We do not enter into a marriage as a law given by the state.

But rather… we marry as a celebration, as a signpost, of how God takes two beautiful and unique individuals and brings them gloriously together as one.

No longer are there two individuals… but rather one flesh- united together as one.

No longer are there two separate or competing interests, but rather one cooperative interest.

No longer are there two sets of priorities, but rather one shared set of priorities.

No longer is there a mindset of mine and yours, but rather ours.

No longer are there “your responsibilities and my responsibilities, your role and my role, your duty and my duty,” but rather our responsibility, our role, our duty… together.

It is this new creation, this two becoming one, this beautiful union, that we celebrate in marriage.

You may have heard the saying, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

But I would go even further:  Let each one of us- every friend, every family member, and every person do our very best to, not just avoid separating or dividing marriages, but let us work together cooperatively to encourage, build up, strengthen marriages and families through our words, our actions, and our prayers.

Marriage is a communal responsibility-  we all take part and have a responsibility in the life of this new creation.

But may the bride and groom always work to encourage, build up, and strengthen their marriage and family as well.

With words of life, grace, peace, and love to one another.  With the disposition of Christ, always serving each other in selfless and humble love.  With prayers never ceasing for your marriage and your family, as you are showered and covered with God’s blessing and love.

And may the love of God received… be the very love given to one another.

A love that is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

A love that is not selfish or quick-tempered.

A love that does not keep a record of wrongs that others do.

A love that rejoices in the truth, and not in evil.

A love that is always supportive.
A love that is loyal.
A love that is hopeful.
And a love that is trusting.

It is this kind of love that will never fail.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a marriage.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a family.

Thank God for that kind of love.  For demonstrating that kind of love.  And for letting each of us take part in that kind of love.

I am performing a wedding today.  This is a small edited portion of my message.

peace…

brandon

Finding Life in a Chaotic World

There are few who find and experience the reality of a real, meaningful, hopeful, abundant, free, and full Life.

The gate to that Life is very narrow.

And the road leading there is hard to follow.

Going to church does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Saying the name of Jesus does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Reciting the sinner’s prayer does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Getting baptized does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Doing something nice for someone does not guarantee that kind of Life.

You may be the greatest and most respected “religious” person, who never misses a Sunday service, who never forgets to put money in the offering plate, or who never misses the taking of the Lord’s Supper.

But none of that guarantees that you have found Life.

True Life is only found by fully receiving the love of God and totally surrendering everything to Him.

Everything.

And one would rather die than to ever stop living in that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

And my guess is that most of you agree with all of that.

At least in theory.

Of course we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls!

Of course we would rather die than to ever stop living in that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love!

I hear you.

But here’s the kicker.

It doesn’t stop there.

This all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love is not simply meant to be received.

It is meant to be given as well.

And here is what that means.

It means that we would rather die than to ever stop giving that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

What is received… is meant to be given.

And that turns everything completely upside-down.

Perfect love casts away all fear.

If we receive perfect love.

If we give perfect love.

There is nothing to fear.

But fear has a massive death grip on many Christians.

We are afraid of instability.

We are afraid of tyranny.

We are afraid of “losing freedom.”

We are afraid of opposing ideologies.

We are afraid of the government.

We are afraid of “losing our rights.”

We are afraid of the government “taking our guns.”

We are afraid of the government taking our religious liberties.

We are afraid of our money becoming worthless.

We are afraid of losing our jobs.

We are afraid of “new world orders.”

We are afraid of Anti-Christ figures.

Don’t miss what I am saying here.

I am not saying that we ought not work peacefully and prayerfully to oppose those things that work against the extension of the kingdom of God in the world.

But what I am saying is that as we receive perfect love from God… we begin to realize that we have absolutely nothing to fear.

And as we give that perfect love to others… we fear nothing.

Everything else fades away.

Only perfect love remains.

And it is exquisite and beautiful.

If we would really open ourselves up to experience that kind of love, we would have no other choice than to believe that it is worth living in, giving to others, and dying for.

Because it is a better narrative.

Because it subverts the conflict.

Because it was the way we were always made to live.

Because that is what God intended for us at the very beginning.

And it is with that kind of perfect love that this life is to be lived and experienced.

Not by avoiding the conflict.

Not by praying for a “Rapture” of the church every moment.

Not by constantly begging Jesus to return and take you away to heaven.

But by gracefully and mercifully and lovingly and prayerfully walking through the conflict and chaos of life, while working toward and anticipating resolution.

The way we choose to live presently is a good indication of how we will choose to live in the future.

That is why we need to change right now.

If we aren’t living like Christ presently, when times are relatively good, then we will never live like Christ if times get really difficult in the future.

We can’t be a people content to only receive the love of God.  We have to be people who live sacrificially to extend the love of God to everyone… even in a chaotic world.

That may be hard to swallow because it confronts us with how insufficient and negligent we have been at extending the all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love of God.

Think about it.

Are you criticizing, demeaning, and devaluing the President of the United States and his policies – or – praying for him and loving him despite what actions he takes?

Do you hate the leaders whom we have been told are our enemies or whom we have been told are working against us- or- are you ignoring these voices and choosing to love our enemies the way Jesus Christ loved his enemies.

Do you find yourself getting angry with other people or people groups when you listen to right-wing or left-wing talk radio, when you watch news programs, and when you read the newspaper – or – are you tuning out and learning how to mercifully and gracefully love all people and all people groups despite their situation or circumstance?

Have your allegiance and identity become so closely aligned with the values of our country that you believe it is appropriate to kill people when they are deemed an “enemy” – or – are you on your knees seeking to better align yourself with the love and peace of Jesus toward friends and enemies alike?

Do your actions, when standing for a position on an issue (that you also happen to believe is the position of God), make you hurt, minimize, and wound individuals and people groups – or – do they heal, lift up, mend, and restore individuals and people groups in the loving, graceful, and merciful love of Christ?

Are your words and attitude toward others divisive, angry, hostile, demeaning, and devaluing when you disagree with their position or the way in which they live their lives – or – are your words and attitude always full of life, love, kindness, encouragement, and the building up of others?

We are just scratching the surface with these questions.

How does experiencing the all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love of God change every part of our lives?

I pray it is changing us in every way.

And so much that it pours out of everything we do at all times.

Let the world only know us for our all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Nothing less.

Jesus is calling us out of the large spectator crowd and along the narrow pathway with him.

He wants us to surrender every ounce of our lives to follow him and his way.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is easy.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is predictable.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is comfortable.

He wants us to enter into a life of risk.

He wants us to be willing to suffer pain and alienation.

He wants us to be willing to die.

For love.

Jesus expects everything from us.

And he is asking us to not just receive God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love, but to also be willing to surrender our lives in order to give it away.

That is the place where sacrifice is needed.

And it begins today for those who want to be radical disciples, so that you will be ready in times of difficulty and hardship.

Let us be a people who are not stressed, anxious, or worried in our present lives or at the first sign of turmoil, but rather let us be a people who put our entire faith and hope in a God who takes care of His children.

Let us be a people who do not let the light of righteousness burn out in our present lives or as the world continues to grow darker around us, but rather let us be a people with a renewed sense that we are to have a unified purpose together extending the righteousness of God in the present, even as things become increasingly complex and chaotic.

Let us be a people who are not just announcing a watered-down Good News message with our lips presently or becoming even more silent in the face of opposition, but rather let us be a people who understand fully and unequivocally the life-changing, world-altering reality of the Good News of the kingdom and let us be a people who announce it to the world with our words, our lives, and our all.

Let us be a people who do not run from Jesus in the face of hostility and persecution, but rather let us be a courageous people who exist for a purpose in the way we love, encourage, serve, share a meal, embrace, and give all we have to our friends, enemies, and especially to others who are losing hope.

Let us be a people who are not easily swayed by propaganda, talking heads, political leaders, or any other thing that could lead us astray presently or as times become increasingly uncertain, but rather let us be a people resolved to know Jesus so intimately, his kingdom so thoroughly, his voice so specifically, that we could never be misguided.

And let us be a people who are not sucked into the national news headlines, the talk-show venom, the political mudslinging, the divisive rhetoric, and the cultural instigation presently or in times when it will be easier to blame and hate others, but rather let us be a people so overwhelmed and full of the love of God that we would rather give our lives than not give that love away.

This piece is a modified excerpt from my book AND THEN THE END WILL COME! (www.andthentheendwillcome.com).

Peace…

Brandon