Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Is It Better to Forgive or Excuse Another Person?



Last week, I attempted to explain the difference between forgiving and excusing. I claimed that excusing another person is claiming that he or she never owed you a debt whereas forgiving another person is acknowledging that he or she owes you a debt, but you release him or her from the debt. But we’re still left with an unanswered question: Is it better to forgive or excuse another person? Let’s take a look.

A Case Study


A few years ago, I was hurt very bad by one of my closest friends. He first manipulated me, then he abandoned me, and lastly, he talked smack about me behind my back to some of my other friends. One moment he was in my life, by my side as my closest friend, and the next moment he was not only gone, but worked the rumor mill 24-7.

During my initial evaluation of the data I had gathered about my friend, I concluded that everything he had done seemed extremely well-calculated, leading me to draw the conclusion that he must’ve intentionally hurt me. Therefore, I concluded that my friend owed me a debt for which I wanted compensated.

The compensation I wanted from my friend was a sincere apology accompanied by a sincere promise to never do it again. I thought that would’ve been sufficient repayment for the debt he owed me. But he didn’t apologize. So I was left with three options: (1) hold my friend hostage as my slave for the rest of my life (since the debtor is always slaves to the lender), (2) conclude that my friend didn’t intentionally hurt me, or (3) release my friend from the debt. I started with the first option.

The Problem with Holding Your Offender Hostage


Since I believed my friend owed me a debt, I decided I was going to figuratively hold him hostage until he repaid it. But the longer he didn’t repay me, the angrier I became with him. I began to observe myself talking negatively about him to other people in the same way he was talking negatively about me. Whenever someone would mention his name, my teeth would clamp together, even grind sometimes, and my blood would begin to boil. And I hoped that I wouldn’t cross paths with him around town because, well, I have hockey player instincts.

I thought I needed to receive a full payment from my friend in order to move on with my life. But after months of waiting, he didn’t repay the debt. To this day, I still haven’t received an apology from him.

Has this happened to you? Some people spend their whole lives waiting for another person to repay a debt that’s never going to be repaid. Maybe some people in your life will give you what you feel is adequate compensation for the debt, but most won’t repay it for whatever reason. Some of them may not even realize they’re indebted to you.

The Problem with Excusing Your Offender


When I finally got tired of being angry all the time, I decided to try excusing him by concluding that he didn’t intentionally hurt me. The further I traveled down this path, the smaller the debt appeared until I no longer believed he owed me a debt. This approach certainly solved my anger problems and led me to no longer seek compensation from my friend. But it gave me a new set of problems. What if I discovered more evidence in the future which supported my original theory that my friend had intentionally hurt me? Would I once again get angry and seek restitution from him?

Although I did learn more information about what my friend was saying and doing from time to time for a year after he initially hurt me, I didn’t hear much after that. And since we no longer had contact with one another, it was highly improbable that more information was going to surface which would sway my conclusion. But what would’ve happened if we had continued to remain in contact with one another? For example, what would’ve happened if he’d been a family member or a coworker? If my response was grounded in on ongoing process of figuring out his intentions, then theoretically, every new piece of data I collected on a daily basis could’ve led the pendulum to constantly sway back and forth like Delirium at Kings Island. One day I could’ve concluded that he intentionally hurt me while the next day I could’ve concluded that he didn’t intentionally hurt me. If this was the way I had continued living, I’d have been a psychotic mess! After months of behaving like this, I begin wondering if there was a better way to live my life than to ride Delirium every day.

Forgiveness as an Overflow of Joy


I once owed a huge debt. To put it allegorically, I owed a googol[1] amount of money. That’s a lot of debt! A lifetime of wealth-building achievement similar to that of Bill Gates wouldn’t even put a dent in that debt. As of 2016, Bill Gates had accumulated a net worth of 75 billion dollars.[2] That’s 75 with nine zeros after it. A googol is a 1 with a hundred zeros after it. Even if I was as rich as Bill Gates, I’d have a very long way to go in my repayment program.

To whom could I have possibly accumulated such a large debt? To God. I didn’t literally owe him a googol worth of money, but the debt I had accumulated and continue to accumulate due to my sins is so great that I can’t even count it, let alone do anything to repay it. And there’s no option to apply for scholarships or loan forgiveness from outside sources. My consequence is to receive God’s divine wrath for eternity. Frankly, I’m screwed!

But God chose to release me of my debt, not by overlooking or excusing it, but by offering himself as a substitution in my place.[3] Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, suffered the divine wrath that I was supposed to receive.[4] Did he do it because I was worthy of it? Not at all; I did absolutely nothing to earn it.[5] Remember, even my best attempts at trying to repay the debt couldn’t even put a dent in it. Nonetheless, God chose to release me by paying for my debt.

Let’s say, like me, you have accumulated a huge debt which you couldn’t repay. But your lender chose, out of his own will as opposed to you doing something to earn his favor,[6] to release you from the debt by paying for it himself. How would you feel about that? Would you experience intense joy? That’s exactly what I experienced when God revealed to me that he had released me from my debt.

The joy I experience daily due to the work God has done for me overflows to the point where I can’t help but release other people from the debts they owe me. This is what led me to forgive my friend. I didn’t forgive him because I felt obligated to forgive him or because I wanted to feel better about myself; it just happened. That’s what the overflow of joy in us which comes out of God’s forgiveness does to us: It causes us to do crazy things like release people from the debt they owe us, even though those people don’t deserve to be released from their debt.

I don’t get angry anymore when I hear my friend’s name. I no longer try to figure out whether he intended to hurt me or not. I no longer talk negatively about him to other people. And I no longer feel like he owes me a debt. If I run into him someday, I’ll probably go out of my way to greet him with a huge man hug.

Conclusion


I have concluded that by far, it is much better to forgive another person than to excuse the person. When we excuse another person, it’s all based on our perception of their intentions, which is as volatile at the stock market when we are around that person on a regular basis. But when we forgive a person, it’s just something that happens out of the overflow of joy we’ve experienced in being forgiven. We don’t even have to decide whether we want to forgive the person; it’s just what we do. It’s only when we recognize how unworthy we are to be forgiven that we are able to forgive the people in our lives who are also unworthy to be forgiven.


[1] A googol is 10100. That's a lot of zeros!
[2] “Forbes 2016: World’s Top 10 Billionaires,” CBS News, n.d., accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/top-10-richest-billionaires-world-forbes-2016/.
[3] See Romans 3:25.
[4] See Jeremiah 25:15-16 and Matthew 26:39.
[5] See Ephesians 2:8-9.
[6] See Romans 9:11-13.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Forgiving vs. Excusing



First of all, I want to give a big thank you to my good friend Bob Ruble for suggesting this week’s topic! What’s the difference between forgiving and excusing?

Let’s face it: we’re going to get hurt by other people. It’s kind of like death and taxes; no matter what we do, we can’t escape it. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. When we get hurt, how are we going to respond? Are we going to excuse the person or are we going to forgive the person.

Excusing Another Person


What does it mean to excuse someone? The best way I can think to explain excusing is to offer you a recent real life example.

Two nights ago, one of my hockey teams competed in a very intense game, but we managed to come out with a win. One of the guys on my team, who is a good friend of mine, is good friends with one of the guys on the other team. One of our rituals after each game is to shake each other’s hands and say “Good game!” But during our handshakes, my friend’s friend shook my friend’s hand, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t even make eye contact with him.

When we got back to the locker room, my friend expressed to me that he felt hurt by his friend’s behavior. He felt that the least his friend could’ve done was to say “Good game.” In response, I said, “Well, the game was pretty intense, especially near the end, and your friend is very competitive, so he was probably still in his game mode mindset. He probably didn’t intend to hurt you.” As I later reflected on my comment, I realized that what I had done was make an excuse for my friend’s friend in order to get him off the hook. This is what it looks like to excuse someone.

In this example, my response to my friend expressed a commonly held principle in Western culture: the intentionality of the person performing the action determines whether the person is at fault. If my friend’s friend had intentionally been rude to my friend, then he would’ve been at fault. But in my response, I claimed that he wasn’t at fault because he hadn’t intentionally been rude to my friend.

When someone is at fault, there is restitution which needs to be made. In this example, if my friend would’ve determined that his friend was at fault, meaning that his friend was intentionally rude to him, then he probably would’ve sought some sort of compensation such as an apology and/or a commitment to not behave that way next time. But if he reasoned, like I did, that his friend wasn’t intentionally rude to him, then he wouldn’t have needed to seek restitution since no restitution needed to be made.

To excuse someone, then, is to claim that a person who hurt you doesn’t and will never owe you anything, not because you canceled or overlooked the debt, but because it never existed in the first place.

Forgiving Another Person


Now let’s take a look at what it means to forgive another person.

Going back to my hockey game story, let’s say my friend had concluded that his friend had been intentionally rude to him, meaning that his friend is now indebted to him. My friend would have two options: (1) he can seek compensation for the debt or (2) he can release his friend from the debt. Option 2 is what is meant by forgiveness.

My observations overwhelmingly indicate that the majority of people who believe they are owed a debt choose option 1 over option 2. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’m not going to forgive so and so until he apologizes to me.” To be candid, that’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t something you give after a person compensates you; forgiveness is only forgiveness if it has been given without receiving compensation from the person at fault.

In the Bible, Jesus told a parable to illustrate this point. There was a man who had accumulated six billion dollars in debt! That’s a lot of money! When the lender called the man to request repayment, the man of course didn’t have the money to repay the debt. Instead of foreclosing on his house and taking all of his possessions, the lender did the unthinkable: he released the man of every penny of the debt without seeking any compensation.[1] He didn’t even expect the man to say, “Thank you!” This is what it looks like to forgive a person who has hurt you.

Conclusion


In conclusion, the difference between excusing and forgiving a person is determined by whether a debt is owed. To excuse another person is to claim that he or she never owed you a debt. To forgive another person is to acknowledge that he or she owed you a debt, but you decided to release the person from the debt.

This leaves us with a question to answer: Is it better to forgive or better to excuse another person? Check back next week for my answer to this question.


[1] See Matthew 18:23-35.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Busy?



Are you too busy to read this entire article? As I observe my own life and the lives of those around me, it seems like we’re all so busy. We keep trying to pack more and more activities into our busy calendars to the point where our calendars fill up months in advance.

I’m not convinced that busyness, by its nature, is intrinsically bad. But busyness in the “wrong” activities can easily distract us from the things which matter the most. A couple years ago, Amy and I began making some huge changes in our lives in order to cut out bad, indifferent, and even some good stuff in order to pursue even better stuff. I have written this article to encourage you to pursue the things which matter most in your life through sharing some of the things we’ve learned from our lives.

Why Are You Busy?


Is it just me, or does it seem like it’s a badge of honor in our culture to be busy?

Me: “How’s it going?”
You: “It’s really busy right now.”

You’ve certainly got that right. You wake up at 5:00am and spend the next three hours getting yourself and everyone else in your family ready for work and school. Then you go to work until 5:00pm, knowing that you have so much more to do, but realizing you need to leave in order to keep your family in order. After driving home, you cook dinner for your family and drive you kids to baseball, softball, soccer, and gymnastics practice. On Saturday, you begin the process of cleaning the house, doing mounds of laundry, and cutting the lawn which seems to grow faster and faster every week. On Sunday mornings, you really want to sleep in, but instead, you rally the troops again to go to church. And then you spend the rest of your Sunday afternoon grocery shopping, finishing the laundry, and getting things ready for the upcoming week. Yeah, I’d say you’re pretty busy. You’re not a busy beaver; you’re busier than a beaver.

Why do you want to be busy? Seriously, I encourage you to ask yourself this question: Why do I want to be busy? Do you think busyness defines how valuable you are? Do you think more busyness equals more accomplishment? Does your busyness allow you to avoid being haunted by your “demons?” Does your busyness pacify the criticism of other people? Or do you have a different reason for wanting to be busy?

Now I’m going to ask you another challenging question: How’s your busyness working out for you? Is your busyness helping you live out your life purpose? Or are you like the average American who doesn’t even know his or her life purpose?

What Is Your Family Mission Statement?


Have you ever heard of a family mission statement? The first time I heard of a family mission statement was while reading a book called Family to Family.[1] In the midst of discussing characteristics of healthy families, the authors presented the idea of developing a family mission statement. A family mission statement describes the purpose of a family. It answers the question: Why does your family exist? I’ll be honest, when I first read the section about developing a family mission statement, I was like, “Are you serious?” It sounded so business-like. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw how important a mission statement was for us.

When Amy and I first got married, we were two separate individuals going in two different directions. Although our purposes for existing had some commonalities, we were not completely in alignment with one another. We didn’t yet know what it looked like to be a family who made decisions as a team rather than two individuals who made unilateral decisions, living as nothing more than roommates. To make matters even worse, neither of us was able to verbalize our individual mission statements. When we were presented with new “opportunities” such as changing positions at work, becoming more involved in our church, or attending training events, we took them thinking that they would somehow help us live out our undefined mission statements.

At this point, you can probably observe the missional crisis we faced. We desperately needed a common ultimate purpose to which both of us lived out which would serve as a guideline for making family decisions. We needed a family mission statement.

Are you experiencing a similar family missional crisis? If you are, I would encourage you to ask yourself: What is our family mission statement? Your answer to this question will be your guide to determine which activities you want to be busy doing and which ones you should probably stop doing.

You don't need to be married and have children in order to write a mission statement. Even if you're single, I still encourage you to write yourself a mission statement to guide you in the way you spend your time.

At this point, you may be wondering how to write a mission statement. Different people have different opinions on this, but my rule of thumb is to keep it short and simple. Write a one-sentence statement answering the question: Why does your family exist? Once you have developed your family mission statement, stick to it. It's perfectly acceptable to change it over time as you continue to mature and things change in your life, but if you find yourself wanting to change it every month, then I'd encourage you to force yourself to keep it the same and stick to it for at least a year.

Do Our Activities Support Our Family Mission Statement?


It’s easy to find ourselves in the place where Amy and I ended up. Seemingly everyone around us has a plan for our lives. Our boss wants us to work longer hours and travel more. Business owners want us to spend our money buying products at their business. Our church leaders want us to serve on the praise band, babysit toddlers in the nursery, or run the finances. When we let everyone around us dictate our schedules, then we find ourselves being busy doing lots of activities, but we may not be busy living out the reason for our existence. Instead of letting everyone else tell you where to spend your money, time, and energy, I would encourage you to be empowered to spend it in ways that enable you to live out your purpose.

Once Amy and I developed our family mission statement, we weighed all our activities against it to determine whether our activities served to help us live out our family mission statement. As expected, we determined that some of our activities weren’t helping us live out our family mission statement, so we decided to cut them out. After we narrowed down our activity list, we took another look at it to determine if it was still too big, which we decided it was. This forced us to eliminate things from the list which we thought were helping us live out our family mission statement, but not as well as other things on our list. Of course this process was very difficult, but it has proven fruitful in the long run.

To give an example, one of the things we eliminated was visiting multiple grocery stores every week in order to find the best deals on every food item. This activity was saving us money, but we decided we could use that time better elsewhere. We replaced it with intentionally spending more time with our friends since this activity aligns much better with our family mission statement.

If you want to keep up your sustainability for the long haul, then there’s one final piece to making it happen. We've noticed that it doesn’t take long for the “margin” we’ve created in our schedules to get consumed with more activities. I would encourage you to continue resisting the urge to agree to do things which aren’t helping you live out your family mission statement, even if you think you have the money, time, or energy to do them. Basically, I encourage you to continue saying “No” to the “wrong” activities and “Yes” to the “right” activities. When you agree to a new activity, I would encourage you to drop an activity you are currently doing in order to make room for the new activity.

Conclusion


It’s up to you and your family to decide upon your purpose for existing. Once you agree on a family mission statement, stick with it and don’t give in to the peer pressure to be distracted from it. And finally, continue evaluating your activities on a regular basis. Busyness for the sake of busyness is pointless; if you’re going to be busy, get busy doing the “right” activities.


[1] Jerry Pipes and Victor Lee, Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy (Lawrenceville, GA: Jerry Pipes Productions, 1999).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unselfishness vs. Love - Part 2




Is there a difference between unselfishness and love, or are they one in the same thing? Last week, I began a discussion on this topic by presenting our common cultural beliefs on what makes an action selfish or unselfish. This week, I will wrap up this discussion with a discussion on our common cultural beliefs on love and compare them to the biblical beliefs on love.

The hardest part of defining love is that the word love is used in so many different ways.

“I love pizza.”
“I love my friends.”
“I love my wife.”

All three of these uses of the word “love” are different. The type of love I’m attempting to define in this article is the type that is used in the context of saying, “I love my friends.”

How Do You Know Another Person Loves You?


Do you know someone loves you because he tells you he loves you? Do you know someone loves you because she behaves a certain way when she’s around you? Do you know someone loves you because he wants to spend time with you? Do you know someone loves you because she texts you randomly to see how you’re doing?

Based on my evaluation of our culture, most of us seem to think that “love” is something (a choice or feeling or both) we have in our hearts for someone else which we then express through our actions. However, I could probably get agreement from most of you that our actions alone are an insufficient indicator of whether we love someone. The better indicators of a person’s love for us are the intentions behind a person’s actions.

When we think that someone does what he does because his foremost concern is our goodwill, then we believe he loves us. Conversely, when we think someone does what he does because his foremost concern is his own goodwill, then we question whether he really loves us. Therefore, our way of determining whether someone loves us is by weighing the amount of goodwill the giver intended for us to receive against the amount of goodwill the giver intended to personally receive. If the goodwill intended for us outweighs the goodwill intended for the giver, then we would classify the act as loving.

How do we measure the intended goodwill of a person performing an action? By and large, the way it seems our culture has chosen to measure goodwill is to measure the benefit received from the action. If a person performs an action with the intent of the recipient gaining more benefit than that of the giver, then the action can be classified as loving. Conversely, if the giver intends to receive more benefit from an action than the receiver, then the action cannot be classified as loving.

Based on the way I defined unselfishness in my article last week, it seems that love and unselfishness are synonymous terms with the purest form of unselfishness/love being that someone does something for someone else with the intention of receiving absolutely no benefit. However, I presented a large problem with taking that approach to life which makes this way of living unsustainable. Therefore, I will now present a different definition of love which on the surface could look similar to the type of love I’ve described so far, but at its core, it is very different.

Defining God’s Love


In order to understand God’s love, we have to first lay aside our current paradigms about love because the way of thinking about God’s love is actually quite different than the way our culture thinks about love.

We need to start by answering the question: Who does God love the most? Does God love the world most? Does he love people most? Does he love animals most? The answer to this question is that God loves himself more than he loves anyone or anything else. If he didn’t love himself first and foremost, then he would be contradicting himself when he told us to love him first and foremost[1] and he’d be worshiping an idol, which he also commanded us not to do.[2]

If God loves himself most, then how can he intend to do something beneficial for himself yet not intend for himself to receive any of the benefit from it? If you think this sentence doesn’t make any sense, it’s because it doesn’t. It’s an irreconcilable paradox. God can’t both intend to do something beneficial for himself and intend to not receive any benefit from it. This means God must not define love as the intended benefit given and received from an action.

So why does God do what God does? According to the Psalmist, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”[3] And according to Paul the apostle, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[4] The reason God does what he does is for his own pleasure. “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.”[5]

Hold on a minute! That’s not what we learned in Sunday school. We were taught that God’s ultimate goal was to save lost people. A God who, first and foremost, seeks his own pleasure sounds pretty selfish and, quite frankly, narcissistic. How can we really call this God loving if he intends to receive great benefit from his actions? This is precisely why we need to set our cultural paradigms about love on the shelf and instead let the Bible, God’s Word, redefine love for us.

What is love according to the Bible? Since there isn’t a verse in the Bible which says, “Love is defined as…”, I’ll turn to a definition which well-respected contemporary theologian John Piper wrote in his book Desiring God: “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.”[6] Since this definition of love is so vastly different from our culture’s definition, I’m going to briefly break it down.


If love is the overflow of joy in God, then joy (in God) and love are directly connected to one another, with joy coming first and love coming second. The more joy we have in God, the more love we have. Conversely, the less joy we have in God, the less love we have.

This portion of the definition, however, is insufficient to defining God’s love since God’s love doesn’t stop at joy in God. God’s love is the overflow of joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others. The joy we find in God overflows such that it not only willingly, but joyfully meets the needs of other people. The idea of doing something because of duty’s sake or because it’s the right thing to do has no room in this thought process since it is done with disinterest rather than out of gladness.

This is the type of love God has. His love comes out of his joy in himself, which leads him to gladly meet the needs of others, something he does for us every single day. In the same way, this is what God’s love looks like when it’s working in our lives; the love we experience from the overflow of joy in God will gladly meet the needs of others.

Therefore, God’s love isn’t concerned with whether a person’s intention was to receive benefit from an action, but rather, it is concerned with whether the action is done joyfully as an overflow of a person’s joy in God.


A Final Test


Before I wrap up, I want to test this definition with a verse from the famous love chapter of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. In this chapter, Paul wrote:
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:3
It’s reasonable to conclude that someone’s willingness to give up everything he has and die are indicators of “good” motives. Yet, Paul claimed that someone could perform these two actions, out of “good” motives, while not having love. Moreover, he claimed there was gain to be received if the actions were performed out of love, but no gain if the actions weren’t performed out of love. On all these accounts, I’d say the aforementioned definition of love agrees with this verse: If I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but don’t have joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others, then I gain nothing. Rather than saying "No pain, no gain," we can say, "No joy, no gain."

This type of love is far superior and much more sustainable than the type of “love” we experience when we do something for someone else with the intention of not receiving benefit in return for our actions. We receive a satisfying experience when we receive grace from God and we receive a satisfying experience when this joy overflows in the act of sharing this grace with others.[7]

Conclusion


In the last two articles, I have attempted to demonstrate that although unselfishness and our culture’s definition of love are synonymous, unselfishness and God’s love are not synonymous. Unselfishness is defined as doing an action with the intention of the receiver receiving more benefit than the giver. Love, on the other hand, is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.

How do you know whether you have God’s love? Thoughtfully and honestly answer these two questions.
  1. Do you have joy in God?
  2. Does the overflow of your joy in God cause you to gladly meet the needs of others?


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these two articles. Feel free to leave me some feedback on what you liked or didn’t like with the content of this article. I’m more than happy to hear your thoughts and/or engage in a deeper discussion with you on this topic. Additionally, if you have any requests for other topics you’d like me to discuss in my blog, I’d love to hear from you.


[1] See Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Matthew 22:37.
[2] See Exodus 20:4-6.
[3] Psalm 115:3.
[4] Philippians 2:13.
[5] For a much more in depth explanation of this point, see chapter 1 of John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, rev. ed. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2011), kindle.
[6] Piper, Desiring God, 1973, kindle.
[7] Ibid., 1981.