Posture of No-Forgiveness

My family has a bad tendency of not talking to each other when we are upset at each other. There have been times when we haven’t talked to each other for months and when we stop to wonder why, we realize that we don’t even remember why we were upset at each other in the first place.

I remember my senior year of high school my dad and I got into a huge disagreement. To be honest, I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, who started it or why it even happened. All I remember is that my dad and I did not talk to each other for about four months.

It is important to note that my dad works at the high school I went to, so not only did we not talk at home, we also didn’t talk at school, we didn’t talk on our drive to and from home, and we didn’t talk on any school trips. We were so angry at each other that we basically just ignored each other.

After a while, I started missing my dad. I wanted him to acknowledge me, to talk to me, to forgive me. But the longer this disagreement went on, the less I knew what to ask forgiveness for since I had forgotten why we were mad in the first place. All I knew was that I missed my friendship with my dad and I didn’t know how to fix it.

When I remember that experience, I can’t help but think of two brothers in the bible: Jacob and Esau.  

The whole argument revolved around the fact that Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s blessing. This was a huge deal in biblical times. The oldest son always got the largest piece of the inheritance, would be the family patriarch after the father passed away and was entrusted with the family possessions and needs. This was something that the eldest sons did not take lightly.  

But in Genesis 27, Jacob’s mom Rebekah tells Jacob this: I just heard your father saying to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and make me some delicious food so I can eat, and I will bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’ Now, my son, listen to me, do what I’m telling you to do. Go to the flock and get me two healthy young goats so I can prepare them as the delicious food your father loves. You can bring it to your father, he will eat, and then he will bless you before he dies.” Because Rebekah loved Jacob more, she helped him trick his father so that he could steal his older brothers blessing.

A little later in the story, Esau finds out that his brother stole his blessing. He becomes so furious that Esau says to himself: When the period of mourning for the death of my father is over, I will kill my brother. This causes Jacob to pack his stuff and run away from home in order to avoid his brothers wrath.

For a long time, these two lived apart from each other. Both started families, both acquired property, both moved on with their lives, but they still did not make amends. But later in the story, Jacob begins to make his way back to his brother’s house to ask for forgiveness. And the encounter is absolutely beautiful.

In Genesis 33, as Jacob approached his Brother Esau, he began to offer gifts to his brother, he began to introduce his family and servants and eventually his wife. But this was not an easy encounter. Jacob was ready for his brother to retaliate. He was positive that his brother would kill him right then and there but instead Esau looked at his brother and said, “what’s the meaning of this? I already have plenty.”

In that moment, they reconciled, they helped each other, and they moved past their differences. But did you notice how scared Jacob was to ask for forgiveness? He was convinced that his brother still had a grudge against him; so he almost doesn’t ask for forgiveness out of fear. In his mind, his brother had a posture of no-forgiveness and he was afraid to seek forgiveness.

As I read this story  I can’t help but wonder if there are people out there who want to ask me for forgiveness but are afraid to ask me for it because of the posture of no-forgiveness that I give off. Are there places in my life where my attitude, my ego or even my pride make people feel unwelcomed to approach me? Are there places in my life where I can let my walls down so that others feel like I am willing to offer forgiveness?

Let me ask it this way: are there places in your life where someone may see you as an Esau? Is there a place in your life where someone may want to reach out to you and ask for forgiveness but they are afraid of how you might respond? If so, maybe it’s time for you to bring your walls down, and have a more inviting posture where people feel comfortable coming to you to ask for forgiveness.

I need to be challenged by this. Maybe you do too.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

Jesus Exceeds Expectations

I was reading through Romans earlier this week and I was struck by the introduction that Paul writes in this book. Here is what he says:

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus.”

Romans 1:1-6

Let’s talk a little bit of biblical history for a second. Before Paul was a follower of Jesus, he was a religious leader who persecuted and incarcerated Jesus followers. They were, after all, making claims that they had encountered the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, was convinced that they were making up lies.

One day, as he is traveling to a town called Damascus with an arrest warrant in hand ready to keep living out his civic duty, he had an encounter with Jesus and it changed everything for him. One day, Paul claims that following Jesus is punishable by law and the next he claims that following Jesus is an expectation even if you are punished by the law. What a contrast right?

I think that by reading through his introduction in Romans we can see exactly what changed for him. See, before he began to follow Jesus he had an expectation of who Jesus would be and what Jesus would do. Before he encountered Jesus, he had an expectation that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, the son of God, who would have the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the Roman empire and offer Jewish people their freedom from Rome.

But instead, people were celebrating a guy named Jesus who had a humble birth, did not have an army and was killed by the Roman authorities. His expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be and who Jesus actually was, were very different. Which meant that surely Jesus was not the Messiah they were waiting for. (This is called a Messianic Expectation).

But this letter is written after he encounters Jesus on his way to Damascus. In this introduction, Paul states that what Jesus came to do was to defeat death through resurrection in order to offer grace and apostleship to all who choose to follow him.

You see, who Paul expected Jesus to be is not who Jesus ended up being. But Paul came to see that what he was expecting is not what he needed after all. The Roman empire being defeated is not the kind of freedom God was offering (and it wasn’t the type of freedom the Jewish people actually needed). Instead, Jesus offered them true freedom. The type of freedom that is not dependent on people but rather God’s power over the things that harm us and separate us from God.  

I remember praying to God about six years ago and asking God to help me cross paths with every single person I had ever hurt, so that I could personally apologize and find the freedom from my past that I was searching for. Six years later, I am still waiting to run into them.

There have been a couple of times when I was at a conference, I ran into someone and we got to have a great conversation. There have even been times when I have been able to have a text or phone conversation with people. But for the most part, I am still hoping to run into most of these people to make amends and “move on” from the guilt and shame of my past.

My expectation was that if I could just run into these people, all could be made well. But somehow even after having conversations with some people, the shame and guilt still persist. But as my expectations have shifted and I have learned to trust God more, somehow I find myself knowing without a doubt that I am loved and forgiven. I know today that even if I don’t make face-to-face amends with people from my past, I can find freedom from the burden my past brings.

Don’t get me wrong. The mistakes of our past were wrong. And we should make every effort for reconciliation. But even if that reconciliation never comes, you are a beloved and forgiven child of God and nothing can change that.

You see, if we are open to it, we can see that Jesus’ life exceeds expectations in our life. I wanted to hear words of forgiveness from people, but Jesus’ life reminds me that even if I don’t, I am a forgiven child of God. I find myself wondering if my past defines me, but Jesus’ life reminds me that who I used to be is not who I am today. Jesus’ life reminds me that grace is for all people, including me and you. Jesus’ life reminds me that I don’t have to have it all figured out before God welcomes me with open arms and calls me forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that even if others don’t forgive me, my forgiveness comes from God; that I am already forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that if I hold on to him with everything I have, that I don’t have to go back to my old ways because in him I am made new.

The reality is that I had my expectations for what I wanted Jesus to do in my life in order for me to feel forgiven. But it did not happen the way I had expected. It was better than I could have ever imagined or expected. Jesus went above and beyond in my life. I know today without a doubt that I am forgiven. I am not captive to my past. And I am emboldened to share my story to help others do the same!

Over and over again Jesus has exceeded my expectations. I keep turning to Jesus every day because the more I pursue my relationship with Jesus, the more freedom I find in every aspect of my life. I know that you carry burdens as well. And I know that at times it feels like you need to take matters into your own hands. But I promise you that there is no other way. Turn to Jesus, even if you have your expectations of the way things are supposed to go. But always be open to the way Jesus will exceed your expectations. You may come to see that even though things don’t go as you planned, the journey you end up on may be far more life giving and purposeful than you ever thought it could be.

Together on the journey,

Pator Fernie

Dealing With Frustration

I woke up frustrated…

For starters, I did not sleep very well. I had some nightmares. Then, after getting out of bed, I decided to check my social media accounts. Post after post, I kept reading comments of people tearing each other down for their political beliefs, their stance on certain issues or even their personal opinions. Over and over again I saw a very polarized image of who we have become as a society. I decided instead to turn on the news but once again I saw more of the same. After a few minutes of this, I went back to social media.

I got more frustrated.  I got more annoyed. And then I decided to join in. (Not my proudest moment).

I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated with every comment and every response. I could feel myself getting more and more upset. Eventually I had to stop and walk away from that conversation. I needed to catch my breath.

I sat on my couch for a second, but I still felt frustrated. I poured myself a cup of cold water and walked around the kitchen but I still felt upset. I was running out of options, so I decided to  grab my bible, go to my desk, and turn on Christian music.

After a few minutes, I felt myself become less irritated. I would read a bit, then pause to reflect and take notes. I would pause at moments to listen to the music and reflect on the words that were being sung. The longer I sat there the less frustrated and upset I became. Before I knew it, I had completely forgotten about the frustration I had felt. I felt better, more at peace, and ready to start my day.

As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of Psalm 143:6 (CEB) that says: my whole being is like dirt, thirsting for you.

How true was that for me this morning. My annoyance had nothing to do with the stuff on social media or the news. My annoyance didn’t even have anything to do with the fact that I did not sleep well. I used all of this as an excuse to justify my frustration.

What was really happening was that my whole being was thirsting for God. My whole being was longing for an opportunity to center myself around God; to refocus myself on what really matters.

I don’t know what you are going through this week, but I hope that you can make time to listen to your thirst for God. Doing so can help you overcome the sense of frustration that you may be feeling. Maybe you can turn your radio to the Christian station on your way home today. Maybe you can find a daily bible verse online and spend a minute reflecting on it. Maybe you can stop whatever you are doing right now and spend a couple of minutes taking deep breaths and saying a prayer to God.

Whatever you are going through today, I know that our whole being is longing for God and the only way to quench that thirst is by giving our beings over to God.

I pray that you may give yourself time to do so today. May you find that just a few short minutes with God a day can completely reshape your day and what happens in it.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

The voice of the world or the voice of God?

I recently read an inspirational quote on Facebook that says:

 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours (Luke 4:7).

I smiled when I read it because at first it seems like a very good quote. But when you realize that it is actually the devil who is speaking (and not God), you realize it’s not so inspirational. But that is the way the world speaks to us right? The world makes us think that by worshipping what this world has to offer, we can find true life and purpose. And if we don’t listen carefully, we might even believe it’s God talking to us.

But when that voice speaks, the world is lying to you and me. If we live by the rules of this world, the only thing we will truly find is that we are never quite good enough. The voice of this world can be so loud, sound so life giving, and sound a lot like the voice of God. You see, if we don’t fully know the voice of God, it is so easy to confuse the voice of God with the voice of this world.

Here is the thing:

The voice of this world tells us to desire success and wealth. But God tells us that he will place life giving desires in our heart.

The voice of this world tells us that anxiety is a weakness you must overcome on your own. The voice of God reminds us that freedom from anxiety comes by surrendering all to God.

The voice of this world tells us that sorrow is a lonely place to live in. But the voice of God tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We may feel alone, but we are not truly alone.

The voice of this world tells us to be brave because we are strong and prepared for anything. But the voice of God tells us that the only way we can truly be brave and courageous is by finding it in God.

The world speaks lies that places tremendous amounts of pressure on us to rely on our own ability. But the voice of God says that no matter how prepared we are, how strong we are, how courageous we may be, what everything boils down to is whether or not we can let go and let God lead our every steps.

See, the world may tell you to try harder, to give more. But I promise you that that voice is lying to you because you will never have enough to give. On the other hand, if you rely less on yourself and rely more on God, it’s actually comforting to realize that you are not enough. It is comforting because we come to see that the God who dwells within us is more than enough. You see, the way we make it through this crazy and messy thing called life is not by our power, but by the power of the God who created the heavens and the earth.

As we prepare to launch Mid City Church, there have been moments when I have allowed the voice of this world to speak louder than the voice of God. I am tempted to feel as if I need to constantly do more to have a successful launch. I am tempted to feel as if I have to have my whole life perfected if am going to be an effective pastor to this new community. I am tempted to believe that the success of this new campus is dependent on my ability. I am even tempted to believe that the success of this campus will define me as a pastor. I am tempted to believe that the difficult things I experience along the way don’t hurt. I am tempted to pretend that I don’t lay up at night worried about the launch. I am tempted to pretend like I have not cried at night wishing I could do more.

That’s the thing about this world: listening to the voice of this world forces us to pretend and believe things that are simply not true. But when we listen to the voice of God we are able to realize that the truth that God speaks is more life giving and purposeful than anything we can even begin to imagine.

Beloved, whatever you are going through today, whatever pain you may carry, whatever doubts you may have or shortcomings you may see, I pray that you may stop judging yourself by the voice of this world and instead listen for the voice of God. For I promise that in doing so, you will find the life and purpose that you are seeking.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie